August 26, 2015—Half a century ago visionary R. Buckminster Fuller wrote, “There is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it.” Each year his namesake organization, the Buckminster Fuller Institute, challenges designers, architects, scientists, artists, activists, entrepreneurs, and planners from all over the world to submit their innovative solutions to some of humanity’s most pressing problems. This year the OMEGA Global Initiative (OGI) is one of 15 semi-finalists in the Fuller Challenge.
OMEGA, “Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae,” is a broad-reaching plan for a “system of systems” to integrate algal biofuels production with water recycling, solar energy production, and compatible aquaculture, among many other components. OGI is currently seeking to establish small-scale demonstration projects in diverse coastal communities, transforming wastewater into a resource that produces algal biomass and potable water, expands local food production, increases the use of solar power, and supports local economies through jobs and new sources of revenue.
“Bucky Fuller is a personal hero of mine and we are honored to be acknowledged in the Fuller Challenge,” Jonathan D. Trent, PhD, chief scientist and founder of OGI said. “Fuller had a deep understanding of systems-level thinking, which is at the core of the OMEGA project and the inspiration for OGI.”
An interdisciplinary team of experts selected OMEGA from more than 400 projects because it exemplifies all seven of the Challenge criteria: It is visionary, comprehensive, ecologically responsible, feasible, verifiable, and replicable.
“These projects deserve the attention of the world for their commitment to ‘solving for system’—an approach that takes an unusual degree of insight, patience, tenacity and courage,” Fuller Institute Executive Director Elizabeth Thompson said. “The teams behind these initiatives have made extraordinary efforts to define the systemic context underlying the problem they are seeking to solve, and have designed strategies that provide enduring and sustainable solutions.”
OMEGA began as a $10.8 million NASA-funded project on the feasibility of producing aviation fuels from algae without competing with agriculture for water, fertilizer, or land. The NASA team, led by Dr. Trent, a NASA scientist, showed that algae could be grown on municipal wastewater, thereby avoiding the use of potable water and fertilizer. Dr. Trent’s team then designed a floating cultivation system for the process that could be deployed offshore in calm bays, avoiding the use of land.
“We engineered a system that wouldn’t compete with agriculture, but unfortunately, it also couldn’t compete with fossil oil energetically or economically,” Dr. Trent said. The NASA team continued experimenting until it devised a systems approach to make OMEGA competitive.
The initial biofuels project evolved into an ecosystem of technologies that produce sustainable energy, expand access to drinking water, and increase local food production. “We ultimately realized that the OMEGA system in the offshore environment had much more to offer than just biofuels, and that by adding water-cooled solar we could provide electricity and heat to tip the energy balance in our favor. We learned, too, that by expanding wastewater treatment, we could produce potable water, and by including aquaculture, we could provide food, thereby supporting the overall economics of the system.”
Dr. Trent and his colleagues formed the OMEGA Global Initiative this year to tell the world about the integrated OMEGA system, to facilitate its installation, and to help people everywhere realize the benefits of this integrated technology.
OGI’s goal is to insure that coastal cities near calm bays all around the world will benefit from the OMEGA system. The nonprofit company is recruiting “OMEGA ambassadors” to help with everything from siting to building to fund-raising. “We are looking for people who care deeply about the future and want to contribute to the owner’s manual for Spaceship Earth that Bucky Fuller said we need,” Dr. Trent said.
Find out more about OGI: www.omegaglobal.org
View the OGI submission to the 2015 Fuller Challenge
Buckminster Fuller Institute – firstname.lastname@example.org