Jonathan D. Trent, OMEGA Global Initiative and NASA-AMES research Center, OMEGA: An energy, water, food life-support system for spaceship earth

OMEGA emerged
from NASA’s Advanced
Life Support research that
allows us to contemplate
human exploration of Mars
and helps us address looming
problems with energy, water,
and food here on Earth.
OMEGA, an acronym for
“Offshore Membrane
Enclosures for Growing
Algae,” began as a project to
grow microalgae for biofuels
and evolved into an
ecosystem of technologies
that generates sustainable
energy, turns wastewater into
drinking water, and provides
food without using land.
OMEGA combines and optimizes new and emerging technologies for energy production,
wastewater purification, and aquaculture. In protected ocean bays, OMEGA’s floating platforms
are covered with water-cooled (hybrid) solar panels that produce electricity and heat. The
electricity powers pumps that circulate nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich wastewater through a
network of clear, flexible plastic tubes to grow oil-rich algae, which are harvested and processed
into biofuels. In addition to making biofuels, the algae capture CO2 that would otherwise be in the
atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. And they remove nutrients and contaminants from the
wastewater as a first step in an OMEGA process that turns wastewater into drinkable water—at a
fraction of the cost of desalination methods for seawater.
Add the use of OMEGA’s floating infrastructure by aquaculture farmers to cultivate
oysters, crabs, fish, or whatever is an appropriate crop for the location, and the OMEGA system
makes a valuable contribution to local food production. Thus OMEGA provides energy, water,
and food, while creating a diversity of jobs that support a sustainable “green” economy.
We will discuss the $10.8 million OMEGA feasibility study supported by NASA and the
CA Energy Commission from 2010 to 2013 and the OMEGA Global Initiative (OGI), a recently
founded nonprofit corporation 501(c)(3) to identify OMEGA sites, mobilize local OMEGA
developers, mitigate developmental risks, and facilitate successful OMEGA implementation,
operation, and, ultimately, commercialization globally.
Trent, JD, 2015. Food, water, and energy from alpha to omega. TEDx Academy talk, Athens Greece:
Trent, JD, 2013. OMEGA Final Report to the California Energy Commission.