LillyBot 1.0 2013

Lilly_bot 2013 from cesare griffa on Vimeo.

Lilly_bot is an automated device to cultivate edible micro-algae like Spirulina in a domestic environment. Having a personal micro-algae farm is an environmentally friendly way to produce and consume a complete nutritional source that grows at the highest rates through photosynthesis, fixing CO2 and producing O2.

Lilly_bot is on show at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven from October 19th to 27th.

Spirulina is considered a healthy food that contains all of the amino acids and is a complete protein. Its growing rates are very fast because, like all photosynthetic monocellular organisms and unlike more complex green organisms, the 100% of its cells participate in the growing process. The Spirulina grows in a specific water medium composed by non-chlorinated water along with other nutrients (Sodium Bicarbonate, Ammonium Phosphate, Sea Salt, Potassium Nitrate). The most important of those is the Sodium Bicarbonate that creates an environments that resembles the ash lakes in nature in which Spirulina grows.

Lilly_bot creates the perfect environment for Spirulina to grow providing an optimized light exposure, an efficient natural aerating system and CO2 feeding, and an efficient agitating system that avoids the formation of algae deposit. She’s composed by a clear acrylic tank and frame, a submersible water pump, a clear piping system, a clear growing chamber (that can consist in a plastic bag or in recycled plastic bottles), and a removable aluminized Mylar foil.  Lilly-bot can be equipped with a termometer and automatic EC and PH meters to keep the solution properties under control and add nutrients when required.

The micro-algae solution is pumped into the piping system from the tank at the bottom of the acrylic frame. The acrylic frame has multiple holes to create a variety of attachments possibilities allowing to fix different types of growing chambers. The Spirulina solution flows down from the piping system into the growing chamber using gravity. The chamber is shaped with a variable water hour-glass geometry that creates turbulence in the solution and sucks little bubbles of air while the solution flows down to the tank. The wrinkled alimunized Mylar foil on the back provides retro-lightning when the Lilly-bot is placed along opaque surfaces like a wall. It can be removed for installation along transparent surfaces like windows. When the Spirulina solution is dense enouh, it can be harvested through the piping system directly into a jar and then can be dried while the growing medium is being enriched with new nutrients.

Images show the clear acrylic frame, and three set ups with different kinds of growing chambers: one composed of recycled plastic bottles, and two composed by a pneumatic clear film double membrane with different patterns. The recycled plastic chambers are composed by a series of bottles cut and connected to each other by their necks with a diaphragm. The flow descending speed is controlled by the power of the pump, and the diameter of the diaphragm. The descending speed is optimized in order to create turbulence to avoid algae deposits, and to keep the chambers half filled to create optimal aeration. The clear film double membrane pneumatic system allows for more operating flexibility. As in the other system, the descending speed is controlled by the power of the pump and by the dimensions of the vertical connections from the one chamber to the one below. The possibility of creating infinite pattern drawings allows for greater control. The two set up in the images show two different patterns that use the same principle of the hour-glass, one with bigger triangles, the other one with smaller smooth diamonds. The diagram shows the tank and frame composed of pieces lasercut from a 6mm clear acylic sheet, the assembly of the pieces and a variety of growing chambers set ups.

It’s a project developed by Cesare Griffa at the MIT SENSEable City Lab in Cambridge (MA) with the support of the Fulbright Commission and implemented with the support of Fablab Torino (IT).
Many thanks to Carlo Ratti, Director of the SENSEable City lab.
Contributors: Antonio Ravarino, Federico Rizzo, Gianni Bruera, Matteo Amela, and Marco Mignone.

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