Energy from Floating Algae – a Moonshot Project

Combining waste water and algae creates the biodiesel.  Adding acquaculture makes it cost effective

Jonathan Trent wants to create a viable biofuel energy source without competing with agriculture for water, fertilizer and land space.

His plan is to build waste water and algae containers, using solar energy to grow the algae and absorb CO2. The algae could be used for fuel, cosmetics, fertilizer or animal feed.

The units are placed near the surface of the water.  A filter takes out oxygen and puts in CO2. The algae is then pumped into a holding tank for filtration and harvesting.

Working with NASA his Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae project is codenamed OMEGA.

This microalgae has the potential to produce 2000 gallons of biodiesel per acre per year. This is leaps and bounds above other current biofuel sources.

His project is a great marriage of biology, engineering, economics and environmental science.

The economics of the system is difficult to justify in terms of energy generation alone, even though it includes wave generation, photovoltaic panels, and wind turbines. To make the full facility economical, Jonathan proposes aquaculture to produce mussels, scallops and oysters.

The cradle-to-cradle idea of using recycled plastic is discussed, and he also thinks about what happens to the plastic when it is finished.

Ideally, when OMEGA units are retired the recycled material can be used in agriculture. In California recycled plastic is used in fields as plastic mulch to act as modular greenhouses, efficiently using water and absorbing heat.

Trent proposes to create algae parks near waste water plants on the shore. Current test sites are Santa Cruz, San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay.

San Francisco would require 1280 acres of OMEGA modules to process all of its wastewater. This would produce over 2M gallons of fuel, which is twenty percent of the diesel required there in one year.