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Improvements in pond construction and


supply for the

mass production of microalgae

With 2 tables in the text

The text describes a pond for the mass production of algae in which
the algae suspensin flows on a natural slope and is circulated by a
pump. This type of pond permits the construction of large production
ponds with optimum adaptation to the shape of the land. The tests on
this type of pond gave favourable results in comparison with
horizontal ponds with bucket wheel drive.
Also described is a floating gas exchanger for supplying carbon
dioxide to the algae suspension.
This exchanger Works on the principle of direct diffusion and is
equipped with a float valve to control the quantity of carbn dioxide
so that it corresponds to the consumption by the algae.
Given that the growth rate of the algae is the same whichever form of
gas supply is used, the gas exchager allows a considerable reduction
in carbn dioxide losses comparad with those incurred if the gas is
supplied in bubble form.
The construction and peration of the culture ponds and the use of
carbon dioxide as a carbon source account for a considerable portion
of the production costs involved in mass production of algae.
Attempts were therefore made to improve pond construction and the
carbon dioxide supply process for the purpose of reducing costs.
Particular attention was devoted to optimum adaptation to the
conditions in a developing country.
Pond construction
The Project was originally equipped with horizontal culture ponds in
which the algae suspension is circulated by bucket wheels. This type
of pond has various disadvantages, particularly if larger production
units are to be constructed:
Improvements in pond construction for the mass production of

1. Varying suspension levels and flow rates are produced

depending on the distance from the bucket wheel. The
turbulence necessary for thorough mixing of the algae
suspensin is therefore not of even strength everywhere in the
2. The limited range of the bucket wheels necessitates the
isntallation of an appropriate number of driving units in the case
of larger ponds.
3. Bucket wheels with geared motors are not manufactured as a
standard design and are therefore relatively expensive.
4. Flat land required for setting up this type of pond is already
being use don the Peruvian coast for agricultura. Sufficient
desert land with a slight slope is however available on the adge
of the irrigation cases.
These disadvantages are eliminated in culture ponds in which
the algae suspensin flows on a natural slope. A test pond was
constructed and tested according to this design. The technical
data of the test pond are reproduced in Table 1. The pond
consists of a wooden channel lined with plastic sheeting; the
cannel is arranged in 4 parallel meanders. A low-pressure
centrifugal pump converys the algae suspensin from the
lowest to the highest point of the pond. From there it flows
down an even slope. Measurements on the basis of fluid
dynamics showed that the Manning equation for flow conditions
in an open cannel (Table 1) may be used with satisfactory
precisin for the calculations involved in this type of pond. The
friction coefficient to be inserted in this equation is n = 0.013
for the cannel lined with plastic sheeting. This measured value
corresponds with the values given in the literatura on the
subject for concrete channels with a smooth surface. Ponds of
any size can therefore be calculated and planned exactly using
the equation.
The test pond is designed for land with a slope of approx. 4 %.
By varying the de-

Table 1. technical data on the sloping cannel.

Net culture rea

Length of cannel


Width of cannel
Height of rim
Slope (s)

1.07 m
0.20 m

Difference in height

119 mm

Suspensin level


-13.5 cm

Suspensin volumen

10 -15

Flow rate


0.47 m/sec.
Flow volumen

45 -50

Mean residence time of
algae suspensin


6 pipe:

4 sec.

Hydraulic calculation according to

Manning equation:


x R h 2/3 x s1 /2
With n = friction coefficient (= 0.013)


= hydraulic radius

S = slope

P. Heussler et al.
Sign parameters it is however posible to adapt the pond to slopes of
between 1 and 10 % if there is a minimum of earth movement. If the
pumps are adequately efficient, it is posible to construct production
ponds with a culture surface extending over several hectares; in this
case each pond requires only one pump unit, irrespective of its size.
Further reductions in the cost of the ponds may be expected if the
cannel is made of earth or clay and is lined with sufficiently durable
plastic sheeting.
Various sheeting materials available locally are at present being
tested for suitability.
Existing experience shows that the ponds may be constructed, with
adequate precisin in the slope, by local staff and without problems.

Operation of the ponds presents no difficulties. Yields are

approximaterly 10 % higher tan those abtained from horizontal ponds.
Carbon dioxide supply
In customary methods of algae production the carbon dioxide gas
necessary as a carbon source for the mass growth of the algae is
mostly supplied to the suspension in the form of finely distributed
bubbles. However, due to the low suspension levels, the residence
time of the bubbles is not sufficient to allow all the CO2 to be
dissolved. Gas losses to the atmosphere are unavoidable It is
technically possible to saturate the algae suspension by introducing
the gas directly into the pump circulation or via interconnected
stationary gas exchangers. In this way, however, only smaller ponds
may receive an adequate carbon dioxide supply. Measurements
showed that after travelling along 100 m of the channel at the most,
the algae have used so much carbon dioxide that more gas must be
additional problem is the adjustment of the carbon dioxide supply so
that it corresponds to the requirements of the algae at any time.
Taking into account all these aspects, a special gas exchanger was
developed which functions very simply and efficiently and can be
manufactured from materials available in a developing country.
The gas exchanger consists of a plastic frame which is covered with
transparent sheeting and immersed in the suspension. Carbon dioxide
is fed under the sheeting via a float valve, so that the exchanger
floats up to the surface of the suspension on the developing gas
cushion. The gas is dissolved in the alge suspension flowing through
underneath the frame. The float valve is adjusted so that all sides of
the frame are immersed in the suspension. In this way no carbon
dioxide can escape into the atmosphere and the exchanger floats in a
stable position. The valve lets in only as much carbon dioxide as is
simultaneously dissolving in the algae suspension. The required
number of gas exchangers may be installed anywhere in a pond and
thereby facilitate even carbon dioxide distribution over the whole
surface of the pond, even in large ponds. A transfer area of 1.2 to 2
square metres is sufficient for supplying carbon dioxide to 100 square
metres of pond surface. Depending on the temperature of the nutrient
solution and the intensity of the algaes growth, the degree of
utilization of the carbon dioxide ranges from 25 to 65 % compared
with 13 to 20 % if it is supplied in bubnle form. The growth of the
aldae does not vary according to the type of supply. Measurements
showed that even at high temperatures and light intensities the pH
value in the algae suspension is sufficiently stable without additional
control devices to supplement the float valve. Experiments on the
kinetics of the gas transfer with the new exchanger showed that in an

algae suspension with a reduced carbon dioxide content and pH

values between 8 and 9 the pH value stabilizes at 7, and CO2
saturation is reached after half an hour to an hour.
On the basis of these favourable experiences ponds with a natural
slope and an effective area of up to 1000 square metres are being
constructed in the planned semi-industrial installation; in these ponds
the floating gas exchanger is being used. The costs for a pond with an
area of 1000 square metres are shown
in table 2. The price is still relatively high due to the concrete design
and the cost of the pump. It may be expected that larger ponds, in
which the pump costs are divided up over a larger area will be
decisively cheaper, particulary if a transition is made to the
construction of earth channels lined with sheeting once the sheeting
tests are concluded.
The dvelopment of the culture pond with a natural slope and the
floating gas exchanger represent improvements which considerably
simplify and reduce the cost of using mass culture for protein
production in developing countries. Patents have since been applied
for in the case of both new developments.

Table 2. calculation of costs for a sloping cannel 1000

in size.

1 000 m concrete cannel with 31 bends

35 958. - DM

Pump, fully mounted

Q = 50 l/sec., delivery head = 16 m

8 470. DM

Pipes, fittings,


supply system

8 328.

Relative cost:

52 756. DM
52.76 DM/

Es wird ein Kulturbecken f r Algen beschrieben, bei dem die

ber eine nat rbiche Schr gflche abflie t und

mit einer Pumpe wieder nach oben befrdert wird. Dieser Beckentyp
ist besonders fr groe Kulturflchen geeignet und gestattet es, die

Anlage dem natrlichen Gelnde optimal anzupassen. Der neue

Beckentyp hat auch im brigen Vorteile gegenber
Horizontalgerinnen mit Schaufelradantrieb.
Es wird ferner ein schwimmender Gasaustauscher zur

CO2 -

Versorgung von Algenkulturen beschrieben. Der Austauscher

ermglicht den CO2 -Eintrag durch direkte Diffusion und ist mit
einem Schwimmerschalter ausgestattet, so da ser
ber die Rate des

CO2 -Eintrag

CO2 -Verbrauchs selbstttig geregelt wird.

Vorausgesetzt,da das Wachstum der Algen von der Art des

CO2 -

Eintrags unabhngig ist, gestattet der neue CO2 -Austauscher eine

weitgehende Reduktion der

CO2 -Verluste. wie sie bei

blasenfrmigem Gaseintrag entstehen.

Address of the authors:

Peruvian-German Microalgae Project, Casilla 405, Trujillo, Peru

P. Heussler et al.
Richmond: What is your stabilized pH, using your new gas exchanger?
At pH 7 you get particularly large losses of CO2 .
Heussler: We cannot maintain the cultures at a pH exceeding 7.4,
because we have a very hard water, and the phosphate of the
medium would precipitate.
Richmond: You simply
have to add more phosphate then.
Heussler: The answer is not so simple.
Richmond: This is our problema, too. The water we make artificially to
simulate brackish water prevalent in our deserts, is relatively high in
calcium and magnesium. Calcium phosphate seems to precipitate in
the media. The way to correct the deficiency which is thus affected, is
to add PO 4 which (at least in the laboratory) relieves the limitation
for growth.
Heussler: In our otdoor ponds we have about 140150 mg/l of
calcium and we need up to 700 mg/l of phosphate to precipitate this
Richmond: So that it would be
cheaper to maintain a lower pH?
Heussler: Yes.
Richmond: How much is the CO2 loss at Ph 7?

Heussler: We have not yet determined the exact balance.

Mohn: What pump do you use?
Heussler: We have low speed irrigation pumps of high volume and low
pressure. A centrifugal pump. Sometimes we have beetles in the
water. They pass the pump undamaged.
Mrkl: When moving algae cultures by means of a pump, we have to
look for extremely low pressure pumps. Such pumps could be axial
pumps (high investment, good efficiency) or air-lift apparatus. We
believe that high CO2 utilization can be reached through
distributing the


intake as well as possible over the whole

cultivation area, so as to avoid high local


concentrations with

large gradients to the air at the border of the culture. Turbulence can
not only serve for CO2 intake but also for O2 exportation, in
order to avoid high


concentrations in the culture, which

restricts the photosynthetic rate.

Heussler: It is not very good to introduce the






The time of retention of the bubbles in the

liquid is too small, it does not permit a good Exchange of CO2 . I am
sure that we have a really good exchange of oxygen.
Rffer: what is the relation of energy costs using a well-adapted pump
(in this system) against using a paddle-wheel.
Mrkl: We studied this problem in the case of the Dortmund raceways.
The pump is very encouraging when we only consider the investment.
But you need quire a lot of energy for driving the water around. They
have 100 % efficiency and a pump can only have 90 % efficiency. The
real energy consumption is not lowered.
Richmond: In other words, your pump is wasteful?
Mrkl: But it is still a good device.
Shelef: Moving water with paddle wheels seems to be the most
expensive way of doing it.