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NASA Ready To Show-Off Algae Biofuel Research Project

From: Mitchell
Sent on: Thursday, August 23, 2012 2:23 PM

NASA has developed a system that captures carbon dioxide and helps to
prevent pollution from wastewater while creating renewable algae
biofuel, fertilizer and possibly animal feed, too.

NASA calls its system OMEGA, for Offshore Membrane Enclosures for
Growing Algae, self-contained bags of wastewater and fast-growing
algae cultures that are designed to float in seawater off the coast of
a landmass and produce biofuels, NASA hopes for fueling planes.

As the algae grow inside the bags, they absorb sunlight and carbon
dioxide through the bags' membranes and produce oxygen, which releases
to the atmosphere through the membrane.

The algae also absorb nutrients, creating fresh water that passes
easily through the membrane into the sea, acting as a next-level
treatment phase, helping to reduce the risk of creating local dead

The OMEGA system has been undergoing test runs at the San Francisco
Public Utilities Commission's Southeast Water Pollution Control Plant.
A demonstration scale operation is now ready for its close-up, with a
media tour planned for April 17.

OMEGA was developed at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

NASA claims the OMEGA system is far more efficient than conventional
algae farming methods.

By growing the algae within a bag rather than in open ponds or
channels, OMEGA eliminates the need for water-circulating equipment
and virtually eliminates water loss due to evaporation.

OMEGA also reduces or eliminates the need for energy-sucking climate
control systems that would be needed to regulate the temperature of
land-based water storage facilities.

Aside from producing oil, fresh water and oxygen, the spent algae can
be reclaimed for use as a fertilizer or soil enhancer. Researchers are
also beginning to test algae as a feed supplement for livestock.

Equipment maintenance and lifecycle expenses are another important
consideration for cost-effective algae farming, and OMEGA wins out
here, too. The system involves few moving parts and the plastic tubes
could be recycled when their useful life is up.

Algae, especially freshwater algae, is an attractive biofuel due to
its ability to grow rapidly while producing lipid cells bursting with

Other biofuel crops just can't compete: according to NASA, some algae
can produce more than 2,000 gallons of oil per acre per year, compared
to only 600 gallons for palm. Soy beans fare even worse, at only 50
gallons per acre per year.

Legislators who are taking aim at the Obama Administration's algae
biofuel initiatives will once again have to rethink their plan if they
want to take a potshot at OMEGA. The project was initially conceived
as the Sustainable Energy for Spaceship Earth program at NASA under
the Bush Administration in 2007, when Google provided some seed money
for alternative energy research at Ames.

In 2010 a news report on attempts to increase federal funding for
Omega sparked an investigation by NASA's Office of the Inspector
General, but no ethics violations were found and the dust appears to
have settled.

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