NASA Biofuel Algae Being Grown Inside Floating Plastic Bags

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NASA has developed a system capable of growing large amounts of algae for biofuel production within a network of floating plastic bags, an innovation its developers say could ultimately produce a new fuel source.

By pumping wastewater and carbon dioxide into four nine-meter plastic bags at a demonstration plant in California, researchers have shown that the system can grow enough algae to produce nearly 2,000 gallons of fuel per year under ideal conditions, according to a report in MIT’s Technology Review.

If built near wastewater plants, the technology would overcome two of the challenges associated with large-scale algae biofarms — access to huge amounts of fertilizer and large areas of land.

One significant challenge, however, is that the technology currently would require an enormous amount of plastic. For instance, a scenario capable of producing 2.4 million gallons of algae per year would also require five square kilometers of plastic bags, which would likely have to be replaced annually.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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