It seems that for every advance that is made in alternative fuel there is a downside. Whether it be ethanol, soy, palm, electric, biodiesel, or even elephant dung, their sourcing and/or subsequent emissions are not wholly viable to the environment. Luckily, with major funding from the aviation industry, NASA may have struck upon a way of producing alternative fuel without a foreseeable environmental downside. NASA’s OMEGA project, which stands for Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae, actually helps to alleviate a few problems by creating alternative fuel, processing human waste into freshwater, and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The basic process of the OMEGA project is to place a large plastic bag full of sewage into the ocean. Through the process of photosynthesis, algae grows abundantly within the sewage enclosure. Through the process of reverse osmosis, sewage is purified into freshwater and released into the ocean, oxygen is dispersed into the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is absorbed through the plastic bags semi-permeable enclosure. The subsequent creation of algae within the enclosure is then processed into biofuel and the issue of dumping harmful human waste into the ocean is resolved. The plastic bags are also pretty durable, lasting about 2 years, and are also recyclable.
The OMEGA project’s level of sustainability is impressive. I believe that the most viable solutions to our energy problems are ones that utilize and derive their processes from the natural world. I find it reassuring to know that NASA is taking a cue from the natural world on how to sufficiently utilize energy. In fact, according to one of NASA’s leading scientists,Jonathan Trent,“most of the oil we are now getting out of the ground comes from algae that lived millions of years ago.” NASA is essentially cutting millions of years and harmful emissions off of what creates our fuel while also helping to restore the earth’s ecological balance.
Another great aspect of the OMEGA project is its inexpensiveness. The plastic bags are cheap, and unlike the processing of biofuels from land plants such as soy, corn, and palm trees, water consumption and land acreage is not an issue. Harvesting algae has the potential to help support the local economy by creating jobs and breaking our foreign oil dependency. Moreover, algae is a more efficient source of biofuel than agricultural sources, annually producing much higher amounts of biofuel per acre than any other agricultural source.
I am excited at the prospect that algae-based fuel may be heavily utilized in our energy economy. We at Generators Unlimited are proud to serve as a vendor to NASA during the research and development stages of this groundbreaking project. I look forward to running our generators on algae-based biofuel in the future so we can keep doing our part to help our planet earth breathe a little easier.