The people who brought us memory foam, satellite radio, invisible braces and the charcoal water filter are at it again. The brilliant minds at NASA’s Ames Research Center are working to create a carbon-neutral fuel and food source using floating plastic bags filled with wastewater and algae. Supported by NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and the California Energy Commission, OMEGA (Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae) hopes to take advantage of the amazing amount of oils produced by some algea (up to 40 times more than soy per acre).
One of the commonly voiced concerns with biofuels is that they displace valuable agricultural land that could be used for growing food. OMEGA avoids land altogether by cultivating algae at sea. Large floating farms would take in treated wastewater from seaside cities, and algae would then treat the water and sequester atmospheric carbon (which is released when burned, thus carbon neutral fuel). Byproducts of the process can be used to create biofuels, food for humans, biochar, fertilizers and a host of other resources that are still being tested.
OMEGA’s stated goal is to “demonstrate the feasibility and scalability of OMEGA with respect to the biology, engineering, and economics, and to insure that its environmental impact remains beneficial at the large scale needed to replace our dependence on fossil fuels”.