Introduction: Photo-Bioreactor for Algae & Aquaculture Using Recycled Bottles

This instructable will show you how to construct and maintain a basic bioreactor that can be used to grow all sorts of cool things like algae, brine shrimp, or SeaMonkeys! The Bioreactor also makes an interesting conversation piece to show off to your friends, as well as utilizing discarded plastic bottles.

So now for some background information, in case you have no idea what a bioreactor is, according to Wikipedia:

"A bioreactor may refer to any device or system that supports a biologically active environment.[1] In one case, a bioreactor is a vessel in which is carried out a chemical process which involves organisms or biochemically active substances derived from such organisms. This process can either be aerobic or anaerobic. These bioreactors are commonly cylindrical, ranging in size from liters to cubic meters, and are often made of stainless steel."

For this instructable, I will be demonstrating a bioreactor for Bioluminescent Algae, so according again to Wikipedia, this would actually be a Photobioreactor since the organisms we are growing use photosynthesis to create energy.

The components for this project are made from laser cut acrylic, recycled plastic water bottles, and a few basic aquarium supplies

Step 1: Materials

As a college student, time can be purchased on campus laser cutters, so its one of the quickest means of producing components parts for any project, and was crucial in the construction of the photobioreactor. Besides having access or knowing where to find one of these amazing machines, youll need the following materials:

1/16 inch Clear (7 x 36)- youll need 2 of these
1/8 inch Smoke colored (15 x 36)
3/16 inch Clear (5.5 x 23)
Acrylic adhesive
I used Methylene Chloride from a plastic shop here in town, but JB Weld also makes glue that works on acrylic, youll have to look around for something that works well.
Small aquarium air pump
-I used a WhisperAir pump, but any pump should do since we're not dealing with very large amounts of water
Aquarium Tubing
3-way airline splitters (Qty. 3)
On/Off Airline valves (Qty. 4)
Air Stones (Qty. 4)
Aquarium Silicone Sealant
- Hot glue could be substituted here
Clear plastic Containers (Qty. 4)
- Go out and dumpster dive for these, I found some great 1 liter SmartWater containers, so thats what I used when I designed my reactor.
I used bioluminescent algae, which can be obtained from the link below
Aquarium Salt
I used Instant Ocean, however this may be unnecessary depending on the type of algae you are using
Water Conditioner
-Easily available at meijer, Removes heavy metals and Chlorine from tap water to make sure you dont accidentally poison your starter cultures. BE SURE TO AVOID ONES THAT SAY ALGAE CONTROL THESE WILL KILL THE CULTURE!
Algae Fertilizer
This can be obtained here:

A Quick note on materials, the acrylic I used was what was available to me in the scrap bins here at school, so the design is based around that. If you plan on using alternate acrylic thicknesses, you will also need to edit the DXF Files I provide in the next steps to fit your material.
Also, the tubing, valves, splitters, and water stones can be purchased in nice prepackaged sets at meijer for around 4 dollars.

Step 2: Laser Cutting

Attached you will find the DXF files for the laser cut components. Here's the breakdown of the files:

*Each File has 3 layers
A Placement layer for the material
A Cutting layer
A Scoring layer that just scratches the surface for some reference marks
* Experiment with the tolerances, again these are for the machine I used, so the compensation for lost material is only an estimate

The smoke.dxf file contains all the parts for the base box, annotated below, and should be cut from the smoke colored acrylic

The bio1 and bio2 File should be cut out of the 1/16 acrylic. These are the cross-section ribs that hold the water bottles, as well as the lid cap

The bio3 File is cut from the 3/16 acrylic and contains the spacers for the different layers of the base, and the center support that the ribs.

Step 3: Constructing the Base and Rib Support Structure

So a few notes on Construction-

Most of the bioreactor is assembled using Methylene Chloride, a wonderfully toxic substance that is used int he commercial production of Acrylic. It should always be applyed with a Plastic syringe, and you should probably wear gloves and work in a well ventilated area
Please excersize common sense, and if your unsure about the particular adheasive your using, ask someone, or at least google it

Now to begin Construction, arrange the top of the base face down on your worksurface. Next arrange the side panels at right angles to one another and the top panel (the side panels should be oriented so that the holes, are closest to the top panel). The front and back side panels butt up against the two slightly smaller side panels so that the joint is hidden from the front view. To test fit pieces, peel off the protective covering of the laser cut components, and use masking tape to hold them together. When everything is tapped together nicely, then you can begin the glueing process

The Acrylic adhesive dries in seconds, and is extremely volatile. It works by essentially melting the surfaces together, and then quickly evaporating. carefully apply the glue, if it gets on any of the exposed surfaces, wit will cloud the surface when it dries. Use a plastic Syringe to apply the adhesive a few drops at a time. You should see a kind of "Capillary Action" pulling it in between the joined pieces. When you see this, move on to the text spot and repeat, until all the joints have been glued together.

The order of gluing should be:
*Top and all side panels
*Use 8 of the base spacers (The 1.3 inch ones, these need to be glued together to form right angles first, then glued into the base under the top panel)
  • Glue in the Interior Base Panel A
  • Use 8 more of the Base Spacers (this time the shortest ones, which should be glued together to form right angles, then glued in the corners of the base, under Interior Base Panel A)
*Install the air lines, splitters and shut off Valves
*Glue in Interior Base Panel B
  • Use the last 8 Base Spacers (This time the Largest ones, Which need to be glued together at right angles, then glued to the corners of the base box, under Interior Base Panel B.
  • The Bottom Base Panel does NOT get glued until you are absolutely certain that everything is installed and that you never want to retrieve air pump.

Installing The Air Lines and Valves

The Images will Explain my logic better than words, so if your confused at all, look at the images below. Looking at the First image, you will see Interior Base Panel A. The Center Connector splits the air coming from the air pump into two lines, which are then subsequently split into Two more Lines, Each going to a On Off valve that can be stuck through the hole in each side panel. The Other end of the connector is attached to a 12 inch section of hosing that connects to our Recycled water bottles and goes out the top of the base. The holes In the Sides of the Panels are for the valves that I was using from Miejer, if yours are different or do not fit, you may need to drill them out manually on a drill press. The Single length of hose seen exiting the image going through the hole in Interior Base Panel B, and connects to the air Pump. Again, if you are confused, see the images and comments below

Attaching Ribs
The Ribs Simply slide over the center Support Structure, and twist gently into place, they should be fairly snug, but dont worry if they are not, we will glue them later

Attaching Base To the Center Support Structure and Ribs
The Center Structure Fits into the top of the base, and twist gently
Viola! Your Bio Reactor is nearly complete!

Step 4: Adding the Recycled Water Bottles

The water Bottles Now Need to be Trimmed and Attached to the Reactor.

First Drill a Hole In the center of the bottle caps to fit the air hose you are using. Next feed the hose from the reactor through the bottle cap, and attach an airstone to the end. Next add a little hot glue or aquarium sealant to the interior of the cap and pull the air stone so that its bottom is at the bottom of the cap's interior (see image)

Next test fit the Bottles. Attach the caps to the bottle and place it in the reactor, mark with tape where the bottle meets the top of the reactor's Central Support Structure. Then, using a band saw or similar method, remove the bottoms of the water bottles.

As Stated Earlier, these designs are for the SmartWater, 1 Liter bottles, since thats what i was able to find in the garbage, If you are using a different bottle, you may need to alter the design to fit.

Step 5: Adding Algae and Sterilizing the Bottles

In keeping with the "green" Theme of this instructable, I am going to refer to another instructable dealing with these matters, instead of using Precious memory space to regurgitate what another clever soul has already written.

Thanks to ScaryBunnyMan, everything you ever wanted to know about bioluminescent algae and how to grow it can be found here-

Step 6: Congratulations!

Your almost there-

Now with your Sweet Photo-BioReactor and your algae expertise, all you need is a lid and your ready to start your aquaculturing!

Glue any remaining loose components in place.
Then Glue the Lid Inserts onto one side of the lid. These will hold the Water Bottles together, while keeping out contaminates and stopping too much water from evaporating and the salinity from rising.
Once you are sure that you dont have any leaks, you can insert the airpump and glue in the bottom panel of the reactor's base.

Now step back and marvel at your Awesome, and Green in more ways than one, PhotoBioReactor!
Not only are you reusing waste material (plastic water bottles) but this reactor will also actively scrub CO2 out or the air, while being a cool conversation piece when you have guests over. Imagine the possibilities if an inclined individual were to build in some sweet LED Grow lights...

More instructables to come on what you can do with 4 litres of bioluminescent algae-

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