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Spirulina microfarm/testbed launched in Northwest US
September 2, 2013
ne of the northern most spirulina farms in operation officially opened in July 2013, when the first tour group from Seattle, Bellingham and British Columbia visited the new microfarm near Olympia, Washington.
Robert Henrikson, CEO of Smart Microfarms, founded one of the world’s first and largest algae farms 35 years ago. Now the time had come, he figured, to introduce algae microfarms to grow healthy foods in local communities. Beginning in April 2013, this demonstration facility was built within a larger vegetable greenhouse, equipped with smart monitoring system and web camera.
This microfarm was designed to keep algae cultures warm and extend the growing season beyond the summer months and will demonstrate the capability of microfarms in cooler climates. Two spirulina ponds, 4’x 55’, 20m2 each, have insulating foam panels below and retractable cover above, all within the larger greenhouse.
This testbed will help develop metrics for microfarm operations and productivity, especially for temperate climates. It will test practical, affordable and replicable systems for growing algae for local food and high value products in urban, community, rooftop, mobile and vertical gardens – to demonstrate how microfarms can transform any small food growing area into higher income generating food products.
Smart microfarm systems and services
“There are over 100 spirulina algae microfarmers already in France and now they are spreading across parts of Europe. For North America, this is just the beginning of algae microfarms,” says Henrikson.
His company, Smart Microfarms, is currently installing another algae microfarm in Washington and upcoming projects are in California and Hawaii. Smart Microfarms offers complete, modular algae microfarm components shipped to any location in North America to be assembled under the supervision of construction specialists. “The client can have installed an algae microfarm that is profitable, reliable and environmentally sustainable,” he says.
The entire design, procurement, shipment, installation, start-up, training and ongoing monitoring can be managed under the quality control of Smart Microfarms. The company provides professional consulting services, ranging from preliminary site assessment through system design, delivery, installation, supervision, start-up and long term technical support.
Experience in scalable algae microfarms means Smart Microfarms can help terrestrial, hydroponic and aquaponic greenhouse farms diversify their income stream with high-value algae food products.
Web-based monitoring of Smart Microfarms and photobioreactors
Until now, successful algae cultivation and systems operation required trained and experienced algae experts and PhDs on location. This knowledge level requires sophisticated, expensive staffing and infrastructure.
Automated smart technology combined with modular growing systems will make it feasible to deploy algae cultivation systems, microfarms and photobioreactors, anywhere in the world without on site expert personnel.
Remote monitoring would allow a single laboratory to support a large number of deployed units. The large user database feeds grower experience into the algae operating system, providing the knowledge base for an advanced learning system that offers process automation, and an expert system that provides grower guidance.
Currently under development and real time testing at Smart Microfarms, in Olympia, is an evolving remote monitoring and control system for algae culture maintenance. Key daily measurements such as water temperature, pH, culture density, nutrient additions and harvest data are sent to a remote technician who guides the local operator in effective pond management to prevent crashes and maintain optimum algae productivity.
These flexible microcrop platforms produce food and valuable co-products locally, mimicking nature, as they grow algae and other microorganisms integrating light and intelligent technology.
Individuals and communities can combine algae and aquaponics with organic gardens. Local food production avoids costs of transportation fuels and multi-level distribution along the value chain in the current food system. A higher portion of the value of locally grown food is returned to the grower, encouraging local food producers, creating greater income equality and local self-sufficiency for a more just and stable social fabric.
Fresh harvested algae food and drinks
These spirulina ponds are harvested several times a week during the growing season, and the fresh harvest is transformed into three products – fresh spirulina paste, frozen cubes, and dehydrated noodles and granules.
Spirulina can be eaten fresh, frozen or dried in a food dehydrator. Fresh harvested spirulina is a thick paste like yogurt, dough or tofu depending on how much water is removed. Best of all, unlike dried powder, fresh has almost no taste at all, and can be mixed into juice for a fresh green drink without changing the juice flavor!
A tasty way to consume freshly harvested paste is in recipes for dips and spreads, a very popular way in France. See “How to eat fresh spirulina algae in Aquamole dips” blending fresh spirulina with yogurt, cream cheese, herbs and guacamole spices for a savory green dip for crackers, chips and bread.
Smart Microfarms has developed a variety of scalable systems
Previously developed was a series of small algae growing modules in Point Richmond, California, by San Francisco Bay, designed for growing and harvesting spirulina on a small scale, producing fresh, frozen and dehydrated products for family and local consumption as a daily food supplement.
The easiest systems are indoor aquariums, using standard fish aquarium tanks, with air bubblers and heaters and lights on timers, and when possible, placed near sunny windows to gather available sunlight. If not enough natural light is available, LED grow lights can keep the culture growing.
Simple modular growing systems were built for cultivation outdoors on decks or backyards, designed for scale-up to larger sizes. Materials cost range from a few hundred dollars for small systems to thousands of dollars for scaled-up larger ponds inside greenhouses. Moving outdoors presents increasing degrees of difficulty and challenges to maintain a stable, healthy and growing algae culture. Seasonality, weather changes, storms, cold, rain, wind and dust can destabilize outdoor algae culture and impair production.
This backyard 4’x8’ microfarm installed in 2012 uses simple aquarium bubblers to circulate the pond water. Aquarium heaters and the plastic removable greenhouse cover keep the algae pond water warm enough for growing spirulina even during the cooler, rainier months of the year including November through February.
Read more: New Book “Algae Microfarms”
How algae microfarms can help transform our food culture by growing abundant healthy food in a very small area, affordably and profitably. Over the past 30 years, large farms have grown algae for food, feed and fuels for thousands of products. Now an era of microfarms is emerging. Algae microfarms can empower people to grow healthy food in their own community for food security and self-sufficiency.
Robert Henrikson founded one of the world’s first and largest algae farms 35 years ago. Now, he says, the time has come to introduce algae microfarms and the algaepreneurs who are building them and selling and distributing healthy foods in their local communities.
Robert was a founder of Earthrise, the first USA spirulina farm, which became the world’s largest commercial farm in the 1980s, still producing today as Earthrise Nutritionals in Imperial Valley California. By the 1990s, Earthrise distributed spirulina and green superfood products in over 30 countries. Having pioneered big commercial farms 35 years ago, the time has arrived for small scalable algae systems.