NASA has devised an innovative method called Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae (OMEGA). It is used to grow algae, clean wastewater, capture carbon dioxide and ultimately generate biofuel without competing with agriculture for water, fertilizer or land.
The system is made up of large flexible plastic tubes called photobioreactors. They float in seawater and contain freshwater algae growing in wastewater.
Among the fastest growing plants on Earth, the algae use energy from the sun, carbon dioxide and nutrients from the wastewater to produce biomass that can be turned into biofuels and other valuable products such as fertilizer and animal food. In the process, the algae clean the wastewater by removing nutrients that otherwise would contribute to forming marine deadzone.
|Offshore membrane enclosures for growing algae. (Picture: NASA)|
With this project, NASA intends to investigate the technical feasibility of a unique floating algae cultivation system and set the way for commercial uses. Research by scientists and engineers has shown that OMEGA is an effective way to grow microalgae and treat wastewater on a small scale.
NASA is analyzing the OMEGA system as an alternative way to generate aviation fuels. Potential implications of replacing fossil fuels include reducing the release of green house gases, decreasing ocean acidification and enhancing national security.
Reporters are being invited to attend a one-hour guided tour of NASA’s Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae (OMEGA) system this week in San Francisco, where they will see various prototypes of the innovative method.
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