NASA develops new biofuel energy system using algae and plastic bags

NASA develops new biofuel energy system using algae and plastic bags

April 13, 2012 0 By John Max

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NASA’s new interest in alternative energy research gives way to new options with algae biofuel.

NASA may no longer be conducting ambitious missions in the field of space exploration, but that does not mean the agency is resting on its laurels. The agency has taken an interest in alternative energy and has recently been experimenting with hydrogen, solar and wind power. NASA has also found an interest in biofuels and their production. This week, the agency unveiled a new system that is capable of growing massive amounts of algae. These algae can be used for biofuel production and NASA believes that the system could be the beginning for a new energy source.

The system is comprised of nothing more than giant plastic bags. These bags contain small amounts of algae, enough to spawn a large colony if ideal conditions are present. Researchers pump wastewater and carbon dioxide into these plastic bags, which the algae consume and produce biofuel as a byproduct. NASA researchers demonstrated the system this week in California, and believe that if it were situated near a waste processing facility it would be capable of producing more than 2,000 gallons of biofuel per year.

Algae biofuel is a relatively new concept that is gaining more attention in the world of alternative energy. Biofuels are produced by carbon-based organisms and can be used to power vehicles. Biofuels are already being used in public transportation, but have yet to be met with mainstream acceptance due to criticisms of being inefficient. Algae, in particular, require excessive amounts of land and a constant supply of fertilizer in order to produce enough biofuel to make them viable.

NASA notes that there is one significant problem with its new biofuel energy system. The system requires large amounts of plastic in order to function properly. Plastics are often criticized for their negative impact on the environment, which makes the material a less-than-ideal component to an alternative energy system. The plastic bags used in NASA’s algae farms are expected to need replacing every year, which means that the agency will go through massive quantities of the material in order to produce a significant amount of biofuels that can be used for transportation.