Skip to comments.NASA shows off new algae farming technique for making biofuel
Posted on 04/16/2012 7:11:14 AM PDT by Red Badger
NASA is clearly looking far into the future for a way to handle both human waste and a need for fuel on either long space flights or when attempting to colonize another planet. To that end, theyve assigned life support engineer Jonathan Trent the task of coming up with a way to use algae to solve both problems at once. His solution is to use plastic bags floating in seawater as small bioreactors, containing wastewater, sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow algae that can be used as a means to create biofuel.
The whole thing is called Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae or more concisely, OMEGA, and will be demonstrated to reporters at one of San Franciscos public utilities water pollution control plants tomorrow and is the culmination of $10 million worth of research.
The idea is more practical than revolutionary says Trent, who has spoken to reporters already about the project. The idea was to figure out a way to create an algae farm that could be placed close to a waste treatment facility, without taking up a bunch of land. Thats when he came up with idea of using plastic bags floating in the ocean. Conventional systems use large pools of water set up on dry land. In the test facility, each bag is four meters long and has been seeded with wastewater and carbon dioxide. Sunlight makes its way through the clear plastic as the bags float on seawater, which not only serves as a place for the bags to reside, but also help keep the algae cool, which must be done mechanically in other facilities. The algae eat the wastewater and grow until the bag is filled, at which point it is removed to be used for making biofuel.
Reports thus far show that algae farms set up in this manner would be capable of producing over two and a half million gallons of fuel annually in an area just under two square miles.
Trent says with a real farm, the carbon dioxide come could from nearby power plants, helping to reduce the carbon footprint of the whole process. Not helping, on the other hand, is that the whole scheme is based on petroleum based plastic bags, which in addition to their inherent carbon footprint would also have to be disposed of once a year as they degrade in saltwater. Trent suggests that California farmers could use them as field cover instead of the large tarps they currently use. He also says that if one or more of the bags should break, like say in a storm, there is no worry as the algae would die in the seawater and the wastewater released would be the same as wastewater facilities such as those in San Francisco already pump into the bay.
At this point it seems clear that a new type of plastic will need to be developed for the project to become viable, especially if it is to be ported to space exploration applications at some point; perhaps one made from biodegradable material so that it could be grown along the way, and then could be used as fertilizer afterwards.
More information: Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae (OMEGA) project: http://www.nasa.go
Another payoff scenario for an Obama big donor?
I’m picturing trying to talk the neighbors into allowing the 10 mile by 10 mile plastic sewer mat off their beach, then repeating the fight 200 times.
If the bags are placed so they drift out to sea, once they get 200 miles offshore they are in international waters where activist judges and envi-mentalists have very little say. The Gulf of Mexico surface current moves in a clockwise manner so the bags could be on a natural conveyor belt, ending up close to the Texas refineries at their harvest time. Also we don’t have to use sewage or plastic bags. Possibly we can splice in some watermelon DNA into a seaweed so the water bags are made of seaweed.
The issue is not what we will after some dream comes true, the issue is "What are we going to do NOW". We need resources to develop new technology, and those resources come from PROFITS, not government. If we rely on government to solve problems we simply become another Soviet Union. I will bet you anything you choose that the solution to abundant energy is not anything that's ever been in Popular Science magazine.
Since the stone age leaps in technology are typically funded by military spending. That’s because the military is often the only customer willing to pay the initial price. Once a market is created the price starts dropping, eventually to the point a technology is ready for consumer markets. For example when integrated circuits were first invented they cost $1,000 each. The first customer was the military which used them in jet bombers. Now ICs cost pennies. Biofuel will likely follow a similar route. Military demand will drive this, and it will happen very quickly if a large war breaks out. NASA and the military are closely linked.
That's fine with me as long as you invest your money in it and you take the losses. Not one dime of taxpayer money.
You mean part of the price you pay at the pump? :)
I agree with you. NASA should be completely privatized or disbanded.
Whammo! Point goes to nps.
I could have saved NASA $9 million (after my 10% consulting fee).
Thats because the military is often the only customer willing to pay the initial price
It's also because the military is the one group that is least likely to be oppressed by the ruling class, which also explains their funding. Medical technology has also made great progress because of war. War is still hell, though.
Funny how many would-be conservatives happen to overlook that inconvenient point. If this is feasible, the market will see to it and make it profitable.
Government subsidies only promise more Solyndras and bridges/trains to nowhere.
I wonder if NASA will be launching oceans and huge plastic bags on their future flights.
No trick to it. There's already a hug patch (several hundred sq miles) of the stuff growing out in the Gulf of Mexico. This algae is a result primarily of another failed government program, ethanol. Sooo, if algae is to be one of our future sources of energy, let's run a test by using the already available source. We kill two birds with one stone; beta test algae as a viable source of energy and clean up the Gulf. A two’fer! Yeaaaa..... lol!
sounds like a hazard to navigation.
I also thought that the tubes needed to be connected to some machinery, kind of hard to do when they are out drifting in the open ocean.
What happens to a 10 mile X 10 mile floating algae farm when a hurricane comes along?
I was burning bio-diesel in a Chevy Blazer two decades ago. The fuel was made from soy beans using a process that my grandmother used to make soap nearly a century ago. We need ENERGY, not war.
Transportation fuel use is about 6 billion barrels per year or about 240 billion gallons per year. Check my math but that means about 10 thousands square miles of sewage filled plastic bags floating along our coasts.
I show 240 billion/2.5 million = 96,000.
192,000 square miles.
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