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NASA Ames breakthrough: algae makes biofuel

Thanks to technology developed at Moffett Field's NASA Ames, fuel for cars, trucks and planes can now be produced at your local sewage treatment plant.

The "bioreactor" was invented by NASA Ames bioengineer research scientist Jonathan Trent. The Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae (OMEGA) floats in treated municipal wastewater and grows algae inside special plastic membranes. Once harvested, oil can be extracted from the algae for diesel or jet fuel, leaving remains that can be used for cosmetics, animal feed, fertilizer and other "valuable products."

The breakthrough is NASA's "forward osmosis membranes," which extract freshwater from the algae using relatively little energy compared to other methods of algae production.

Ames has licensed the technology to Nevada-based Algae Systems for further refinement in Tampa Bay, Fla. Eventually, the company plans to create "biorefineries" with the technology, possibly at sewage treatment plants, where the technology could play a role in the water treatment process.

"The OMEGA technology has transformational powers. It can convert sewage and carbon dioxide into abundant and inexpensive fuels," said Matthew Atwood, president and founder of Algae Systems, in a NASA press release. "The technology is simple and scalable enough to create an inexpensive, local energy supply that also creates jobs to sustain it."

Unlike biofuel production methods that involve grass, corn or soybeans, OMEGA doesn't compete with agriculture for land or freshwater, nor does it require added fertilizers or the use of diesel-powered tractors to harvest.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by JP congo, PhD
a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 24, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Too much hype here. Dragging plastic sacks full of feces out into our bays and waterways seems like a poor idea to me, but what do I know? I only did my MS thesis in microbiology at Tampa's Howard F. Curren watewater treatment plant.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ron
a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 24, 2009 at 2:34 pm

JP, you would think that PhD would have guaranteed the ability to read. Where in the brief article did it say they were floating stuff in the Bay? It specifically says that the algae is harvested from bags floating in Municipal waste water (sewage treatment plant). No bays or waterways mentioned.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PKD
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I would like to know the names of the scientists who developed this. The article only mentions the business person who will be making a profit from it. While it is certainly important to put discoveries to practical effect, the news ought to honor the thinkers who originated the concept as well.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by algaepreneur
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 25, 2009 at 6:26 am

Algae is renewable, does not affec the food channel and consumes CO2. To learn about the fast-track commercialization of the algae industry, you may want to check out the National Algae Association. It is the first algae trade association in the US.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PJK
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 25, 2009 at 11:08 pm

This sounds like an important breakthrough and a win no matter how you slice it. Gee JP, is this sour grapes or are you always a pompous ass?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dave Halo
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2009 at 10:49 am

JP and PKD need to learn to read. PKD the lead scientist that developed the process was mentioned in the 2nd sentence of a very short article. JP, offshore does not imply floating in a bay or waterway. It simply means "offshore" as in not on the shore. In this case, not on the edge of the wastewater treatment ponds.

To bad this needs to be studied more, let's start to implement ideas rather than study them to death.


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