Algae to Oil - Simple Setup




Introduction: Algae to Oil - Simple Setup

About: Married to Domestic_Engineer (but I call her Meghan).
Documents an experimental build of a system designed to produce fuel oil from algae.  I think that the exponential growth pattern of algae is very interesting, and may play a critical role in the future.  This instructable is meant to demonstrate that the technology needed to produce fuel and biomass from algae is simple and accessible.  If you look at the academic research, it appears that growing algae is a difficult, scientific task that has to be done in labs by PhD candidates.  Anyone with a pool (or who has ever seen a swamp) knows that it is very easy to produce large quantities of algae.  The key is to extract useful materials without having to input a lot of energy.  It is basically a matter plumbing.

The system here is very small and reliant on an input of electricity.  To be useful this system must be many times larger, and be powered by natural sources.  You can get much more information from the sources listed below.

I published this as a private instructable in 2011, It is based on the work of Rudy Behrens of BEAR Oceanic.   Since then all the information I used (and much more) has been posted on his company webpage, so I'm comfortable sharing this.

 You can learn much more here: --

There are detailed plans on this page

I first learned about the project on kickstarter:

What follows is my original instructable which I am now making public.

Test system built by Marc Cryan - 8/20011

Here is my first try system - my goal was to get some evidence of oil production and build a core system that could be expanded, if successful.  Also - focus on using readily available parts (Home Depot) which allows easy reproduction.

  • Assemble nozzle
  • Attach motor to pump
  • Attach pipes and tubes to pump
  • Attach nozzle to pump
  • Collect algae
  • Grow more algae using micro-bubbler
  • Process algae by running through the pump and nozzle
  • Look for signs of oil

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Step 1: Get Stuff

Stuff needed -
  • Precision machined nozzle from BEAR Oceanic
  • Brass power washer adaptor --1/4" Male NPT  to 3/8" Male NPT
  • 1/4" to 1/2" pipe reducer (or 3/8" to 1/2" and a 1/2" male x male)
  • 1/2" pipe male x male - I think I used 2 pieces of 8inch galvanized pipe (immediately started to rust)
  • Piston pump (has 1/2" female NPT inlet/outlet for pipes, hollow shaft for 5/8" shaft with key) (also I am using the next smaller pump from grainger, I got it on ebay for about 130$ (vs 400$ direct)  -  when I got the package I noticed that it was shipped from a grainger mailroom, maybe they sell surplus on ebay, it did have some rust but looked unused)
  • Motor (5/8" shaft wiih key-way should mate best with pump -- mine was 1/2", not great)
  • Pipe thread tape
  • Buckets
  • Algae
  • Let-em-live bailt-well pump
  • 12V marine battery
  • 3/4" clear tubing
  • Scrap garden hose
  • Scrap clear hose -- maybe 3/8" ID
  • Hose clamps
  • 3/8" drill bit

Step 2: Fit Nozzle

Pipe diameters are nominal only -- that is, like a 2x4, a 3/8" pipe does not have an inner diameter of 3/8" -- it is nearly 1/2" and varies with the wall thickness of the pipe.

I drilled out the 1/4" side of a 1/4" to 3/8" adaptor.  It is a brass peice made for pressure washers (ie it is in the pressure washer section of home depot).  My plan was to insert the kinetic nozzle in the 3/8" end, but the ID was too big.

The 1/4" side is nearly 3/8" -- being brass it is easy to drill, I used a 3/8" bit and drilled to about half the depth of the connector.  

The fit was very tight.  I put the stainless steel nozell in the freezer and the brass peice in boiling water.  This did not really make differnce.  I ended up scrapping the inner wall with the drill bit.  I was then able to tap the nozzle inplace without too much force.

Then screw together the 1/4 and 3/8" sides of the brass reducer.  The whole thing is pretty tight.  

Light is only visible through the fancy hole in the nozzle.

Then I connected the 1/4" to 1/2" adapter to the 1/4" end of the brass one.  This has a female 1/2" NPT thread  so it will work fit a 1/2" male pipe coming out of the pump.

Step 3: Add Pipes to Pump

The pump inlet and outlet have 1/2" female NPT threads.  So you can use 1/2" male pipes.  Use teflon tape on the threads, then you can get a good seal and you will still be able to take it apart.

One pipe goes in each side.

The nozzle assembly goes on the outlet side.

I also used some angled fittings, but for this build they are not needed.

Step 4: Add Tubing

Solid pipes or very heavy tubes would be best.  I didn't want to spend alot of time doing plumbing (I also didn't have anymore pipes).  

So - 

on the inlet side
  • Put a 3/4" tube over the pipe
  • Add a pipe clamp
  • Stick a piece of garden hose in the other end of the 3/4" tube  - maybe a 4ft hose, I didn't measure but used enogh to get to a bucket
  • Add a pipe clamp
           This is not a great setup because if there is a clog the garden hose will get sucked flat.

On the outlet side
       I used a piece of tubing off of a pool cover pump (little giant) -- the tube was a little too small to fit over the 1/4" brass fitting.  I    heated it up with a cigiret lighter and was then able sort of screw it on.  Add a pipe clamp.   This is not what I'd planned to do, but it seemed to work fine.  The nozzle is secured tightly so it should not pop out at 300psi.

Step 5: Connect Motor to Pump

The best would be if the motor had a 5/8" solid shaft with a keyway (as the pump has a hollow  5/8" shaft with keyway)

I only had a motor with a 1/2" shaft.  I wrapped some steel sheet metal (22 gauge) around the shaft and tightened it as much as possible with pliers.  This works, but I was not able to get the alignment correct, this makes pump vibrate a little too much.

I mounted the motor to a piece of wood with screws/washers (not great).  

The pump is basically loose.  I tried strapping it down, but this looked like it was going to destroy itself pretty quickly.  The pump came with a leverage bar.  It attaches to the bottom of the pump with the same bolts that hold the pump together.  I think you are supposed to have the rubber part on the outlet side of the pump.  I set it up opposite, so just a metal bar is pressed against the wood, this started squeaking loudly when the pump was running.  I added some thick grease to silence it.

Step 6: Get Algae

I went to a swamp and scooped out a bunch of stuff with a net.  I think I mainly got duckweed.  I then put the algae and swamp watter in a clear bin.  

I put the baitwell pump in the algae water and ran it for about 4 hours.

I don't know if this made any difference.  

It is a 12Volt pump, so I used a 12V marine/car battery. 

The pump is connected to to a venturi thing that sucks air (through a little hose) and mixes it very well with the water.  Almost like the water is carbonated (I guess that is actually what is happening).  I ordered this from Dan, the let-em-live guy.  It looks like nearly the same thing is used in hot tubs to add the bubbles, so you could probably use one of those (although I did like talking to Dan).

Step 7: Make Some Oil (I Think)

I was just trying to produce some sort of oil evidence.  So here is what I did.
  1. Dump the algae/water in a 5 gallon bucket
  2. Put the in and out hoses in the bucket 
  3. Ran the pump for about 2 hours  ( this was pretty arbitrary, I don't have a sense of how long the process takes)
The algea water went into the pump pretty clear with floating duckweed.   It came out of the pump a thick green color.  I assume that it is mainly crushing the duckweed.

I couldn't really tell if anything had happened.  But I was happy enough to have something running.  I left the bucket out overnight uncovered.  The next day there was an iridescent film over the top.  I think this is the first sign a conversion too fuel.  The film is sort of like a thin layer of plastic,  or wax.  I know that diesel fuel doesn't evaporate fast, like gasoline, but I don't know what it does if left exposed to air.  

I skimmed of the film and put it in a jar, I don't really have a plan, but I am waiting to see how it settles.

Step 8: Overview of the Set Up

Here  is the overall setup -- it is crude (pun!), but functional.

Step 9: Video of Operation

Step 10: A Little More

I don't know how to gauge the ratio of algae to water.  The macroalgea is easy enough to see, but the micro stuff is, well, microscopic.

I got a very cheap microscope and was able to capture some images by pressing a camera to the eye piece.  I think I need to get up to 400X magnification to see the little guys.

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    6 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Did you ever do anything else with this project?

    What happened after you let the 'skimmed oil' set overnight?

    The SYNer
    The SYNer

    5 years ago on Introduction

    Where in those plans does it talk about making oil? Those are plans for a biomethane generator/closed environment. Also you can't make oil by simply passing water and plant mash through a nozzle(no matter how cool/alien the nozzle looks). Oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons. I believe what you have there is vegetable oil. Algae is a great source of vegetable oil and after proper processing(NExBTL or Thermal depolymerization) can be converted to hydrocarbons. This setup is nothing but a glorified algae bioreactor. But if you take your bioreactor and combine it with an oil press(to produce vegetable oil), the resulting vegetable oil can be used in diesel engines.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    The idea is to use the nozzle to create cavitation to do a tiny amount of depolymerization. It is hard for me to tell if this is actually happening. The process does do a good job of pulverizing the algae, and the algal oil eventually separates. I agree that just trying to separate the vegetable oil from the algae is a better plan.


    5 years ago

    Great project!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Congratulations, you got a spectacular result. Keep searching!