NASA Ames Breakthrough in Algae Fuel Production

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.

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