Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae by NASA
The boys at NASA have put together a system that allows the creation of biofuels in a much more efficient manner than what we know. Also, this system does not give rise to wastewater pollution and can have outer uses as well. We are talking about algae farms, and besides being a source of biofuel it has the potential of being used as fertilizer and animal feed.
The system is called OMEGA, Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae, by NASA. It consists of self-contained bags of wastewater and cultures of algae that should float off costs and produce biofuels.
A permeable membrane contains the bags’ content, allowing the algae to absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide in order to grow, and eliminate oxygen in the atmosphere. At the same time, the algae give rise to nutrients that pas thought the same membrane into the sea. This way the risk of dead zones is reduced, because the bags act as a sort of treatment plant.
This system has been undergoing tests at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant, with the press being able to witness its function on the 17th of April. California was the place where the OMEGA system was envisioned by NASA’s Ames Research Center.
The method of growing algae in a bag is supposed to be light-years ahead present methods for a number of reasons. First of all, the need for water-circulating equipment is eliminated, thanks to the bags and their membranes. Also, water loss is eliminated because no evaporation occurs.
Another eliminated system is climate control. These systems would be needed in order to regulate the temperatures in land-based facilities. Since everything takes place in what is practically the natural environment of algae there is no need for such energy-heavy systems.
Furthermore, there is little equipment involved in the process that requires maintenance; anyway, the costs are reduced tremendously with the OMEGA system. Moving parts are few and far in between, and all the plastic parts involved, especially tubes, can be easily recycled. Thus, even more money is saved compared to current algae cultivating methods.
Due to their spectacular growth, algae are an excellent source of biofuel since their cells are full of oil. They have other uses, as well. Fertilizer purposes can be easily filled by algae, and research is underway to find out if livestock can safely eat it as a food supplement.
NASA claims that algae are an excellent source of biofuels, with an acre being able to produce about 2000 gallons of oil per year; palm only yields about 600 gallons, and soy give a meager 50 gallons. Therefore it seems logical to pursue this avenue as fast as possible.
All of this began as the Sustainable Energy for Spaceship Earth program at NASA under the Bush Administration in 2007. Google was the one who provided some starting funds for alternate energy sources to the Ames Institute.
Let’s hope this project kicks off with a blast, and that any possible obstacles will be promptly overtaken (some were aiming to kill the project back in 2010, but nothing happened).