Design of an Algae Photobioreactor

Photo of Stephen Kunkel, Daniel Schmid (Team Leader) and David Townsend Students: Stephen Kunkel, Daniel Schmid (Team Leader) and David Townsend

Sponsor: UT Center for Electromechanics

Date: Spring 2010

Requirements:
The PBR designed by the team is required to function similar to CEM's current design. The PBR must incorporate an airlift to provide circulation, provide a method for uniform sampling, and provide adequate growth conditions for the algae samples to reach a 1% by weight density. The required growth conditions include adequate light exposure, adequate circulation to prevent the algae from settling out of solution, and exposure to carbon dioxide enriched air.

Problem:
Algae photobioreactors (PBR's) are used to grow samples of algae for both laboratory and commercial use. The purpose of this project was to improve The University of Texas at Austin Center for Electromechanics (CEM) current PBR design by correcting known design concerns and thus making its operation more efficient and user friendly by reducing maintenance time and improving the sampling method.

Solution:
The team designed a PBR that showed major improvements over CEMss current design. Key improvements include reduced cleaning time, reduced settling, and a uniform sampling mechanism. Cleaning time was reduced by redesigning the airlift mechanism and limiting the number of crevices where algae tend to collect. The cone-shaped bottom of the new design reduces settling by funneling algae to the center of the airlift mechanism where it can be recirculated to the top of the PBR. Most importantly a sampling mechanism was added that provides uniform sampling by ensuring that the sample is drawn from the same location in the PBR every time a sample is taken. The team fabricated a 1:2 scale prototype of the redesigned PBR. Both operational and growth studies were conducted on the prototype, and several issues with the new design were identified and corrected.

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