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Climate Hustle

Bilal Bomani, Cutting Edge Biofuels from NASA

Posted on 29 January 2012 by Rob Honeycutt

In this TEDx talk NASA's Bilal Bomani discusses "extreme green" solutions that are sustainable, alternative and renewable.  Bomani works with NASA's GreenLab Research Facility where they are experimenting with algae and halophytes to create a self sustaining, renewable energy ecosystem that doesn't consume arable land or fresh water.

It's always exciting to see what great an new things creative people are working on, and Bomani is clearly very engaged and excited about the work they're doing at the GreenLab Research Facility.

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Comments 1 to 14:

  1. Absolutely loved the talk! Thanks Rob. Bilal Bomani is a bit of a legend to my mind.
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  2. The only problem is the productivity of the algae....too low..
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  3. Open raceway ponds can become contaminated with exotic species of algae, which then out-compete the desired species for light and nuttient. You need to ensure that the desired species are robust relative to those endemic locally.

    The keys for me, as someone who has always been interested in 2nd Gen biofuels like algae, are EROEI, (though if the energy input is from low energy intensity and intermittent non-fossil HC the "EI" is not nearly so important) and scaleability. One needs something that will scale up to meet industrial level demand on short timelines, otherwise one has no more than a niche product. Nothing wrong with that, but if we are speaking of the heavy lifting to decarbonise ...

    Still, I admire the passion, and it's obviously R & D that is very worthwhile. Kudos to them.
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  4. This work is really, really important. We need better fuels even if the conversion rates aren't marvelous to start with. Check out this Guardian piece

    I knew palm oil wasn't terribly wonderful. I really didn't expect it to be worse than drilled oil, let alone in the same unfriendly group as tar sands.
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  5. "Open raceway ponds can become contaminated with exotic species of algae".

    Simple, then, don't use open ponds-use a close looped system instead. I've seen systems that are force fed CO2 from power station flue gas (probably gas powered, not coal powered) to provide both their food supply & a source of circulation. Here is some info that might be of use:
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  6. Suggested reading:

    “Cutting Climate Change is Simple: Just Stop Subsidising Fossil Fuels” by Tim Worstall, Forbes, Jan 29, 2012

    To access this brief op-ed, click here.
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  7. Great speech, this kind of tech is really up and coming.
    An architecture student is doing some good work on making a closed loop photo-bioreactor. It's called the algae experiment. You can read more here on
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  8. Apologies. Didn't link it right. the algae experiment
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  9. The largest barriers are productivity, scaleability, cost...
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  10. DrTsk - anything worth doing has to resolve the issues of scalability and cost. Not sure what your point is.

    At this point, we have pretty good solutions for heat, cool and electric.

    Liquid (or other high density) fuels for travel that are sustainable ARE the big nut to crack. I am very happy to see some serious work in that regard.
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  11. I do not see algae meeting those criteria...

    Nor plant based biodiesel.. Too much N,O,S, metals

    In favor of methanol, can make from a variety of sources..
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  12. It often gets depressing that most articles on most climate science blogs tend to be about countering denialist drivel.

    This article however is the polar opposite and actively raises hopes for the future that talented people are addressing the multiple problems we face with innovative research leading to practical solutions.

    Thanks Dr. Bomani for brightening my week.
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  13. What are the drawbacks from hydrogen? I know it is energy intensive, but other than that what are the reasons we wouldn’t switch over to hydrogen?

    What they are trying to produce has the potential to be superior, but a decent hydrogen infrastructure could be up and going in a few years.
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  14. KBow - Two major issues with hydrogen:

    - It takes a lot of energy to produce it.

    - It's horrible to store; very low density, requires either cryogenics ($$$, short term), high pressure tanks ($$, material embrittlement, still low density), or chemical binding (another energy cost/loss). Your 'gas' tank in the car would be absolutely huge.

    Much more effective to produce something that is a liquid at room temperatures, reasonably energy dense (within an order of magnitude of gasoline, for example), and storable. Something like an organic alcohol...
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