NASA recently unveiled new research that could change the face of biofuel production.
The culmination of the research is a new method of growing algae called the Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae (OMEGA).
What the system does is allow freshwater algae to grow in municipal wastewater with the aid of NASA’s photobioreactors in plastic tubes that float in seawater. While growing, the algae treat the wastewater by consuming the nutrients and the carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
A key benefit to NASA's system is its ability rapidly grow algae. If the sunlight, nutrients, water temperature are right, the algae can be ready for harvest in just 3 to 5 days.
So far, tests have ranged from small-scale to using the photobioreactors in a 450-gallon system at the Southeast Wastewater Treatment facility in San Francisco.
The biofuel aspect of this operation comes from the fact that the algae can be converted into a biofuel. However, it has other applications as well. It can also be used to make fertilizer, natural gas and animal feed.
It also bears mentioning that should this system be implemented, the floating plastic photobioreactors have posed no threat to marine life in small-scale tests.
“We have continuous video of various prototypes of photobioreactoes, day and night, over a six-month period. We see birds and sea otters interacting with the system, but it does not impact their well being…Preliminary data showed that the interactions of these animals are not problematic to the system or its functions,” OMEGA project scientists at NASA Ames Jonathan Trent stated.
The OMEGA project is scheduled to be available for commercial use in May. Members of the algae-for-biofuel community/industry are invited to take the OMEGA concept and explore its commercial applications.