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← Plant fuels that could power a jet

Algae plus salt water equals … fuel? At TEDxNASA@SiliconValley, Bilal Bomani reveals a self-sustaining ecosystem that produces biofuels -- without wasting arable land or fresh water.

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Showing Revision 12 created 07/22/2015 by Krystian Aparta.

  1. What I'm going to do is,
    I'm going to explain to you
  2. an extreme green concept
  3. that was developed
    at NASA's Glenn Research Center
  4. in Cleveland, Ohio.
  5. But before I do that, we have to go over
  6. the definition of what green is,
  7. 'cause a lot of us have a
    different definition of it.
  8. Green. The product is created through
  9. environmentally and socially
    conscious means.
  10. There's plenty of things that
    are being called green now.
  11. What does it actually mean?
  12. We use three metrics to determine green.
  13. The first metric is: Is it sustainable?
  14. Which means, are you preserving
    what you are doing for future use
  15. or for future generations?
  16. Is it alternative? Is it different
    than what is being used today,
  17. or does it have a lower carbon footprint
  18. than what's used conventionally?
  19. And three: Is it renewable?
  20. Does it come from Earth's
    natural replenishing resources,
  21. such as sun, wind and water?
  22. Now, my task at NASA is to develop

  23. the next generation of aviation fuels.
  24. Extreme green. Why aviation?
  25. The field of aviation uses
    more fuel than just about
  26. every other combined. We
    need to find an alternative.
  27. Also it's a national
    aeronautics directive.
  28. One of the national aeronautics
    goals is to develop
  29. the next generation of fuels, biofuels,
  30. using domestic and safe,
    friendly resources.
  31. Now, combating that challenge
  32. we have to also meet
    the big three metric —
  33. Actually, extreme green
    for us is all three together;
  34. that's why you see the plus
    there. I was told to say that.
  35. So it has to be the big three at
    GRC. That's another metric.
  36. Ninety-seven percent of the
    world's water is saltwater.
  37. How about we use that?
    Combine that with number three.
  38. Do not use arable land.
  39. Because crops are already
    growing on that land
  40. that's very scarce around the world.
  41. Number two: Don't compete with food crops.
  42. That's already a well established
    entity, they don't need another entry.
  43. And lastly the most precious
    resource we have on this Earth
  44. is fresh water. Don't use fresh water.
  45. If 97.5 percent
    of the world's water is saltwater,
  46. 2.5 percent is fresh water.
    Less than a half percent
  47. of that is accessible for human use.
  48. But 60 percent of the population
    lives within that one percent.
  49. So, combating my problem was,
    now I have to be extreme green

  50. and meet the big three.
    Ladies and gentlemen,
  51. welcome to the GreenLab Research Facility.
  52. This is a facility dedicated
    to the next generation
  53. of aviation fuels using halophytes.
  54. A halophyte is a salt-tolerating plant.
  55. Most plants don't like salt,
    but halophytes tolerate salt.
  56. We also are using weeds
  57. and we are also using algae.
  58. The good thing about our lab is, we've had
  59. 3,600 visitors in the last two years.
  60. Why do you think that's so?
  61. Because we are on to something special.
  62. So, in the lower you see
    the GreenLab obviously,

  63. and on the right hand
    side you'll see algae.
  64. If you are into the business
    of the next generation
  65. of aviation fuels, algae
    is a viable option,
  66. there's a lot of funding right now,
  67. and we have an algae to fuels program.
  68. There's two types of algae growing.
  69. One is a closed photobioreactor
    that you see here,
  70. and what you see on the other
    side is our species —
  71. we are currently using a species
    called Scenedesmus dimorphus.
  72. Our job at NASA is to take the
    experimental and computational
  73. and make a better mixing for
    the closed photobioreactors.
  74. Now the problems with closed
    photobioreactors are:
  75. They are quite expensive,
    they are automated,
  76. and it's very difficult
    to get them in large scale.
  77. So on large scale what do they use?
  78. We use open pond systems.
    Now, around the world
  79. they are growing algae,
    with this racetrack design
  80. that you see here. Looks like an oval with
  81. a paddle wheel and mixes really well,
  82. but when it gets around the last turn,
    which I call turn four — it's stagnant.
  83. We actually have a solution for that.
  84. In the GreenLab in our open pond system
  85. we use something that happens
    in nature: waves.
  86. We actually use wave technology
    on our open pond systems.
  87. We have 95 percent mixing
    and our lipid content is higher
  88. than a closed photobioreactor system,
  89. which we think is significant.
  90. There is a drawback to algae,
    however: It's very expensive.

  91. Is there a way to produce
    algae inexpensively?
  92. And the answer is: yes.
  93. We do the same thing
    we do with halophytes,
  94. and that is: climatic adaptation.
  95. In our GreenLab we have
    six primary ecosystems
  96. that range from freshwater
    all the way to saltwater.
  97. What we do: We take a potential
    species, we start at freshwater,
  98. we add a little bit more salt,
    when the second tank here
  99. will be the same ecosystem as Brazil —
  100. right next to the sugar cane
    fields you can have our plants —
  101. the next tank represents Africa,
    the next tank represents Arizona,
  102. the next tank represents Florida,
  103. and the next tank represents
    California or the open ocean.
  104. What we are trying to do is to
    come up with a single species
  105. that can survive anywhere in the
    world, where there's barren desert.
  106. We are being very successful so far.
  107. Now, here's one of the problems.

  108. If you are a farmer, you need five things
    to be successful: You need seeds,
  109. you need soil, you need
    water and you need sun,
  110. and the last thing that you
    need is fertilizer.
  111. Most people use chemical fertilizers.
    But guess what?
  112. We do not use chemical fertilizer.
  113. Wait a second! I just saw lots of greenery
    in your GreenLab. You have to use fertilizer.
  114. Believe it or not, in our analysis
    of our saltwater ecosystems
  115. 80 percent of what we need
    are in these tanks themselves.
  116. The 20 percent that's missing
    is nitrogen and phosphorous.
  117. We have a natural solution: fish.
  118. No we don't cut up the fish
    and put them in there.
  119. Fish waste is what we use.
    As a matter of fact
  120. we use freshwater mollies, that we've
    used our climatic adaptation technique
  121. from freshwater all the way to seawater.
  122. Freshwater mollies: cheap,
    they love to make babies,
  123. and they love to go to the bathroom.
  124. And the more they go to the
    bathroom, the more fertilizer we get,
  125. the better off we are, believe it or not.
  126. It should be noted that we use
    sand as our soil,
  127. regular beach sand. Fossilized coral.
  128. So a lot of people ask me,
    "How did you get started?"

  129. Well, we got started in what we
    call the indoor biofuels lab.
  130. It's a seedling lab. We have 26
    different species of halophytes,
  131. and five are winners. What we do here is —
  132. actually it should be called
    a death lab, 'cause we try to
  133. kill the seedlings, make them rough —
  134. and then we come to the GreenLab.
  135. What you see in the lower corner
  136. is a wastewater treatment plant experiment
  137. that we are growing, a macro-algae
    that I'll talk about in a minute.
  138. And lastly, it's me actually working
    in the lab to prove to you I do work,
  139. I don't just talk about what I do.
  140. Here's the plant species.
    Salicornia virginica.
  141. It's a wonderful plant. I love that plant.
  142. Everywhere we go we see it. It's
    all over the place, from Maine
  143. all the way to California.
    We love that plant.
  144. Second is Salicornia bigelovii. Very
    difficult to get around the world.
  145. It is the highest lipid
    content that we have,
  146. but it has a shortcoming: It's short.
  147. Now you take europaea, which is the
    largest or the tallest plant that we have.
  148. And what we are trying to do
  149. with natural selection or adaptive
    biology — combine all three
  150. to make a high-growth, high-lipid plant.
  151. Next, when a hurricane decimated the
    Delaware Bay — soybean fields gone —
  152. we came up with an idea:
    Can you have a plant
  153. that has a land reclamation positive
    in Delaware? And the answer is yes.
  154. It's called seashore mallow.
    Kosteletzkya virginica —
  155. say that five times fast if you can.
  156. This is a 100 percent usable plant. The
    seeds: biofuels. The rest: cattle feed.
  157. It's there for 10 years;
    it's working very well.
  158. Now we get to Chaetomorpha.
  159. This is a macro-algae that loves
  160. excess nutrients. If you
    are in the aquarium industry
  161. you know we use it
    to clean up dirty tanks.
  162. This species is so significant to us.
  163. The properties are very close to plastic.
  164. We are trying right now to convert
    this macro-algae into a bioplastic.
  165. If we are successful, we will
    revolutionize the plastics industry.
  166. So, we have a seed to fuel program.

  167. We have to do something with
    this biomass that we have.
  168. And so we do G.C. extraction, lipid
    optimization, so on and so forth,
  169. because our goal really is to come up with
  170. the next generation of aviation fuels,
    aviation specifics, so on and so forth.
  171. So far we talked about water and fuel,
  172. but along the way we found out
    something interesting about Salicornia:
  173. It's a food product.
  174. So we talk about ideas
    worth spreading, right?
  175. How about this: In sub-Saharan
    Africa, next to the sea, saltwater,
  176. barren desert,
    how about we take that plant,
  177. plant it, half use for food,
    half use for fuel.
  178. We can make that happen, inexpensively.
  179. You can see
    there's a greenhouse in Germany
  180. that sells it as a health food product.
  181. This is harvested, and in the middle here
    is a shrimp dish, and it's being pickled.
  182. So I have to tell you a joke.
    Salicornia is known as sea beans,
  183. saltwater asparagus and pickle weed.
  184. So we are pickling pickle
    weed in the middle.
  185. Oh, I thought it was funny. (Laughter)
  186. And at the bottom is seaman's mustard.
    It does make sense,
  187. this is a logical snack. You have mustard,
  188. you are a seaman, you see the
    halophyte, you mix it together,
  189. it's a great snack with some crackers.
  190. And last, garlic with Salicornia,
    which is what I like.
  191. So, water, fuel and food.
  192. None of this is possible
    without the GreenLab team.

  193. Just like the Miami Heat has the big
    three, we have the big three at NASA GRC.
  194. That's myself, professor Bob Hendricks,
    our fearless leader, and Dr. Arnon Chait.
  195. The backbone of the GreenLab is students.
  196. Over the last two years
    we've had 35 different students
  197. from around the world working at GreenLab.
  198. As a matter fact my division chief says
    a lot, "You have a green university."
  199. I say, "I'm okay with that,
    'cause we are nurturing
  200. the next generation of extreme
    green thinkers, which is significant."
  201. So, in first summary I presented
    to you what we think

  202. is a global solution
    for food, fuel and water.
  203. There's something missing to be complete.
  204. Clearly we use electricity.
    We have a solution for you —
  205. We're using clean energy sources here.
  206. So, we have two wind turbines
    connected to the GreenLab,
  207. we have four or five more
    hopefully coming soon.
  208. We are also using something
    that is quite interesting —
  209. there is a solar array field at
    NASA's Glenn Research Center,
  210. hasn't been used for 15 years.
  211. Along with some of my electrical
    engineering colleagues,
  212. we realized that they are still viable,
  213. so we are refurbishing them right now.
  214. In about 30 days or so they'll be
    connected to the GreenLab.
  215. And the reason why you see
    red, red and yellow, is

  216. a lot of people think NASA employees
    don't work on Saturday —
  217. This is a picture taken on Saturday.
  218. There are no cars around, but you see my truck
    in yellow. I work on Saturday. (Laughter)
  219. This is a proof to you that I'm working.
  220. 'Cause we do what it takes to get the
    job done, most people know that.
  221. Here's a concept with this:
  222. We are using the GreenLab
    for a micro-grid test bed
  223. for the smart grid concept in Ohio.
  224. We have the ability to do that,
    and I think it's going to work.
  225. So, GreenLab Research Facility.
  226. A self-sustainable renewable energy
    ecosystem was presented today.
  227. We really, really hope this
    concept catches on worldwide.
  228. We think we have a solution for food,
    water, fuel and now energy. Complete.
  229. It's extreme green, it's sustainable,
    alternative and renewable
  230. and it meets the big three at GRC:
  231. Don't use arable land, don't
    compete with food crops,
  232. and most of all, don't use fresh water.
  233. So I get a lot of questions about,
    "What are you doing in that lab?"

  234. And I usually say, "None of your business,
    that's what I'm doing in the lab." (Laughter)
  235. And believe it or not, my number one goal
  236. for working on this project is
  237. I want to help save the world.