Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Offshore Algal Farms that Purify Wastewater, Grow Fuel

Algae Systems hopes to produce fuel from algae with the OMEGA method pioneered by NASA. OMEGA, which stands for Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae, involves growing algae in large bags measuring up to a quarter-acre in size that are tethered in the ocean. Instead of being fed carbon dioxide from smokestacks or sugars, the algae would grow by feeding off of wastewater.

Besides producing algae that could be used for fuel, the process would convert the wastewater into fresh water. Source __ GreenTechMedia
The idea as pictured will not work, since the violent ocean will rip the big plastic bags to shreds within a fortnight. But oceans are a logical location for big algal farms. Combining algae's appetite for waste of all types with its ability to grow rapidly to occupy a large space suggests a significant potential for rapid production of algal biomass -- and perhaps oils for fuel.

But the ability to grow lots and lots of biomass will be sufficient, until we learn how to more efficiently milk the little green critters for their oil. We can gasify and/or pyrolyse the biomass, and convert the products into useful fuels, chemicals, plastics, and feeds.

The point is not to suggest that this particular company will succeed. The point is that the planet has a lot of space that can be exploited for growing biomass. Humans know how to cultivate and grow huge masses of biological organisms beyond what nature alone would grow. That fact throws off all the calculations of academics, and opens the door to an entire new world of biological possibilities.

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