Earlier this year, NASA introduced an algae photo-bioreactor that grows algae in municipal wastewater to produce biofuel and a variety of other products. The NASA bioreactor is an Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae (OMEGA), which won't compete with agriculture for land, fertilizer, or freshwater.
NASA's Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, CA) licensed the patent-pending algae photo-bioreactor to Algae Systems, LLC (Carson City, NV) which plans to develop and pilot the technology in Tampa Bay, FL. Algae Systems is a new company dedicated to commercializing the method. The company plans to refine and integrate the NASA technology into biorefineries to produce renewable energy products, including diesel and jet fuel.
The OMEGA system consists of large plastic bags with inserts of forward-osmosis membranes that grow freshwater algae in processed wastewater by photosynthesis. Using the sun's energy, the algae absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and nutrients from the wastewater to produce biomass and oxygen. As the algae grow, the nutrients are contained in the enclosures, while the cleansed freshwater is released into the surrounding ocean through the forward-osmosis membranes.
When deployed in contaminated and "dead zone" coastal areas, this system may help remediate these zones by removing and utilizing the nutrients that cause them. The forward-osmosis membranes use relatively small amounts of external energy compared to the conventional methods of harvesting algae, which have an energy intensive de-watering process.
After the oil is extracted from the algae, the algal remains can be used to make fertilizer, animal feed, cosmetics, or other products.
This spinoff of NASA-derived technology will help support the commercial development of a new algae-based biofuels industry and wastewater treatment.
For more info about NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program, and NASA technology infusion activities, click here.