NASA scientist Jonathan Trent is developing a smarter way to turn algae into oil. He's created plastic osmotic containers that will float below the surface of the ocean, grow algae, and then help it bloom into oil. He says the new method is more beneficial because algae can grow in a larger area and doesn't compete with agricultural land.
Turning algae into oil the NASA way
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NASA scientist Jonathan Trent is developing a smarter way to turn algae into oil. He's created plastic osmotic containers that will float below the s...
Aug 25, 2009
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This seems like a risky weather modification possibility...Creating even a small change in the natural convection of the earths temperature via oceans currents drastically affects life over the whole planet.. I would think a filter half way between the earth and sun could be controlled in the summer period to tweakpower balancethe heat absorption.. a disk rotating at a rate of 1 cycle every two years, with a controlled variable diameter to increase or lessen the heating effect..
Why is it that only two people of this entire discussion actually get the point of this article and see the MASSIVE mistake that Dr. Trent has made here? We have Algae and it is abundant. Not only can we already extract it from the ocean, but we can also farm it in our own homes, becoming almost completely sustainable. Now imagine what we can do with it. It can be easily converted to methanol, which is a clean "usable" energy. Methanol can fuel a home generator next to where you grow your algae in your garage to then power your house. This generator will have to be optimized for use of methanol, which I will cover later on. Where in any of that do you see a need for oil? Well, there isn't one, look again if you don't believe me. Let me take this one step further, the important step, the infrastructure. It would be rather hilarious to see an automotive company try to use methanol in an engine not calibrated for such a fuel. These hybrid fuel vehicles (FlexFuel) are not optimized for ANY fuel which leads to an inefficiency in all fuels. When alcohol is combusted, it cools the cylinders of the engine, resulting in a cooler intake temperature and more power. Also because of the high octane rating of methanol (anti-detonation properties), engine in use can be very similar to diesel engine designs. High compression, forced induction, and strong quality materials. However, direct port injection should be used (if not laser ignition as well), the rod to stroke ratio of the engine should be raised, and the engines should be rather small. These small engines are lightweight and very powerful, which can then power larger vehicles. Instead of using a 6.0L gasoline engine, we can use a HO 2.0L methanol engine probably making a lot more power. Since the engine is now lighter, so is the rest of the car, which contributes to fuel savings, and mainly handling characteristics. Methanol transports just like every other type of current fuel, so that isn't really a problem. For people who do not have their own garages designed to fuel two vehicles a day and power the house with your algae plants (SHAME ON YOU!) we can keep the current fuel stations. No need to build a special hydrogen or ethanol station, we already have plenty of infrastructure, the fuel in them just needs to change. So lets get this straight. Dr. WhatsHisFace goes out and pollutes our oceans with plastic filled with our valuable fresh water to grow a special algae that is already abundant? Give me a break dude, and let the engineers take over. Do your job as a Marine Biologist and just look at the genetics of our current algae. See if a human being can further optimize it...it's not going to happen. Get ready for Round 2...of course there is more.
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Isn't algae a form of fossil-fuel-in-waiting? As to plausibility of using the ocean, how will flimsy plastic keep algae-eating creatures at bay? Even given the depleted state of marine life, I suspect predation would occur in short order.
What cost and time interval required to implement at an commercially economic level? Til we have those answers it's pie in the sky not oil in the bag.
This is exciting work. I have been investigating the use of polymer bags filled with fresh water as flotation and pumping devices for ocean based algae production: see http://www.biodieselnow.com/forums/p/25056/167390.aspx
This sounds great, we can tell the Arab nations to go drink their oil while we produce our own fuel. But why is NASA researching this? I thought they were for space exploration? Wouldn't this project be more for the Energy Department?
The difference between a scientist and an engineer is that a scientist tries to discover things and is equally happy when he/she fails, as that too advances science. An engineer takes the science and builds with it, and is NOT HAPPY with failure, other than to study and improve future engineering projects. The idea of algae is great science and has great value. The PREMISE that we need to go in the ocean to save AGRICULTURAL LAND is COMPLETELY false and actually misleading. The LAND neded for algae does not nee to be farmland. In fact, with sunlight at a premium, a desert -with no agricultural value- is the idea place for algae, as is curently being proved in Arizona. If you have ever flown over the USA on a clear day, you know we have plenty of desert. To further separate science from engineering, how are these bags to be harvested? WHEN they break, any problems? When a shark takes a big bite, what do you think? Hurricanes? How abou the impact on the sealife when you have these HUGE rafts of algae that block the sun from the ocean floor below? Again, science gets an "A". Taking that science, providing a false premise (need to save farmland so go to the ocean), and move production to an expensive, dangerous environment gets an enginering "F". This happens all the time and is the cause of an enormous waste in money. Science is great, but call an engineer before you try to build. And then call a businessman, because the methanol argument seems to have merit. Good luck to us all!
if you want to see more. They have a very efficient process that doesn't concern the ocean, and can even be done in the dark with extremely efficient processes. Don't underestimate the power of life!!! Especially diatomaceous life. The fuel they most easily create is methanol, which can be processed now, by fuel cells! This is not future stuff! I'm talking NOW! Using methanol is cheap enough we can do it now, and it will at least only introduce 35% as much carbon to the atmosphere compared to gasoline! We can absorb that carbon by the renewal process to make more methanol!!! It is a no brainer!! I can't believe anyone can seriously look at anything else! Hydrogen, even if stored in borax hydride can be more energy wasting to produce and store that it is worth. And we have STILL not solved the contaminate problems with the fuel cell. Methanold is ALREADY HERE, and well, and gaining manufacturing concerns a 45 to 55% return on investment with this system!! This is for sale ALREADY in a neighborhood near you! Wake up! And smell the coffee!!
As a scientist, I must say that this is great step in bio-fuel R&D. But, no one should expect this to replace the need for oil drawn from the earth, but rather another way to collect the sun's energy to REDUCE the consumption of fossil fuels. Please note: 1. NASA is funded entirely by the taxpayers of the USA, which is fine. But I hope to see some brilliant biochemists in one of the DOZENS of public sector companies (not just Valcent) make quantum leaps in processes needed to advance this technology. 2. The "oil" produced by algae is not the same as fossil fuel, and it can be made to burn very efficiently. 3. Genetically engineered algae will be the key to high-quality high-yield bi-products... BUT we'd better be careful putting them in our oceans. (Can you imagine the potential disasters for our food chain?!) 4. Plastic bottles are NOT osmotic membranes, but after the algae-growing process is refined and scaled-up, the use of recycled materials may have some applications. 5. How the heck did someone who thinks we can burn water for fuel ever get to this website? Maybe a link from Astrology Today or Star Magazine?
This is already being done by Valcent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyoKTbxerpQ
I want to commend Johnathan Trent on his wonderful work. This is exactly the kind of thing we need going forward. While there are still issues that will take time, such as making re-usuable membranes, and making these membranes from recyled materials or alternative sources, the process looks hopeful. For those who think harvesting free-range algae is the answer, they should try it before the speak. Algae is not a single plant like a tree, but a colony of single-celled plants. The moment you start to attempt to harvest it, it tends to break up, thus making the effort much more difficult and costly. To make matters worse, free-range algae, especially the fresh water variety, is not as oil intensive, and thus is less useful as a fuel source. The use of the membranes is clearly to cultivate the best kinds of oil-prodiucing algae into denser colonies with higher oil yeilds per volume and to make harvesting it easier to the point of being economical. If this process were invested in by some seriously green-minded venture capitalists, I could see a demonstration plant being ready in 5 to 10 years.
... the other alternative - instead of utilising the water to support the algae , USE the water to as the fuel! There have been various methods over the past 100 years of actually burning Water in an internal combustion engine ... besides the most obvious of splitting the water into its gas components of Oxygen and Hydrogen. The resultant by-product from these process is water again from the exhaust - and no noxious fumes etc. ...
This is what I have been talking about. Some of these scientists have good ideas and intentions, but let's get real. Why do we need some special manufactered plastic container? What about using re-cycled plastics, and even what about harvesting algae that already exists, tons and tons upon tons, in our lakes and oceans. I hate the phase "of course this would take some time". Algae actually grows very fast, and replenishes itself even faster from harvested areas. If algae is already dense then the sunlight that it takes to make it grow faster, does not get to the base of the plant, just like a tree deep in a dense forest that gets no sun. And excuse me Mr. scientist, but could you not make much more methanol from algae than oil? Is not methanol a cleaner, and modern fuel? C'mon America!
This kind of video needs to be seen by youth to make connections to STEM courses and careers. This excites and inspires kids...I've posted it on a free site www.stemcareer.com for those seeking and promoting STEM careers. Contact me with other ideas or collaborative efforts to help fill the innovation and creative STEM pipleline needed in the new economy
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