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On Flying Without Fossil Fuels: The Need For High Energy Density

Nathan, Toyota, the largest manufacturer of automobiles, is now focusing its attention on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for the future as well.

And yes I would hope OTEC plays a large and environmentally significant roll in the production of this energy carrier. Hydrogen power ships are the way to go to bring that carrier to market.

May 30, 2014    View Comment    

On When Will Coastal Property Values Crash And Will Climate Science Deniers Be The Only Buyers?

"Sea level rise is now unstoppable"

John is that really the case.

The past 15 years atmospheric warming has decreased, it is believed, due to increased accumulation of heat in the deeper ocean as a result stronger than normal trade winds that have piled up surface heat in the Western Pacific; forcing it deeper.

We can replicate this natural phenomenon with an ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) system that moves heat as deep as 1000 meters beneath the surface with what is commonly referred to as a heat pipe. These are the same devices that move heat away from the vital components of modern electrical devices and deposit that heat safely in the atmosphere.

The oceans are on average 4,267 meters deep. They are massive and absorb tremendous amounts of heat with limited temperature increases. To a depth of 2,000 meters they have warmed less than a tenth of one degree Celsius in the past 50 years in spite of the fact that they are accumulating heat a rate of about 2 Hiroshima bombs worth every second.    

This heat however is not with out consequences. It causes the oceans to expand, leading to sea level rise, it drives hurricanes and undermines the polar icecaps whose melting will be the driver of the large sea level increases that are expected by the end of the century.

By moving surface ocean heat through a heat engine, OTEC can produce as much energy as is currently derived from fossil fuels. Moving it away from the surface robs the power of hurricanes and when it is relocated to a depth of 1,000 meters it produces half the sea level rise as it does on the surface because the coefficient of expansion of sea water is half as great at that depth and ocean temperature as on the tropical surface.

Dr. Paul Curto, former Chief Technologist with NASA, has pointed out that when OTEC was first discussed in relation to global warming at a 1977 conference in Miami one of the concerns was that it might cause an Ice Age.

Although a kilometer of ice over New York to save Miami is not a saleable proposition, enough cooling to prevent further losses of Artic, Antarctic and Greenland ice mass would be beneficial to all.

May 27, 2014    View Comment    

On The Myth of Price

Can I like it more than once?

May 22, 2014    View Comment    

On Why We Need CCS, Part 2: Reactive Climate Change Mitigation

Nathan, the warmer the ocean gets the less CO2 or O2 for that matter it can hold. OTEC's capacity to cool the surface is it best recommendation in terms of CO2.

Most of the claims for CO2 capture are associated with OTEC are biological. Thermal stratification is believed to be depleting phytoplankton that produce half the oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Proponents of the cold water pipe design claim upwelling will bring to the surface the nutrients the phytoplankton need to thrive in a similar way that iron seeding has been seen as a phytoplankton stimulant.

Too much nutrient can however have the reverse effect causing eutrophication of the water column.

To the extent OTEC reduces ocean thermal stratification it would enhance CO2 uptake through photosynthesis.

Another take on this was recently published in Climate Progress with regard to the threat to oysters in the northwest. "The problems started happening in 2006 when winds that cause upwelling off the West Coast didn’t subside as much as they usually do. Upwelling brings up water that was at the surface of the ocean 50 years ago, water that had spent the last five decades years deep in the ocean, accumulating carbon dioxide from the organic matter that sinks to the seafloor. According to Oregon State University, the water that rose to the surface off the coast of Washington in 2006 contained CO2 levels of 900 to 1,000 parts per million."

Normal ocean content is about 350 ppm.

This is one more reason for the deep water condenser design that leaves the cold water in place but would induce gentle convection that would bring nutrients to the surface.


May 21, 2014    View Comment    

On New Studies Suggest Many Coastal Cities Eventually To Be Abandoned With Antarctic Ice Collapse

We have all witnessed the response to the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11.

Where is the comparable response to the potential loss of entire cities and perhaps even states such as Delaware. 

May 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Where Are Conservatives' Big Ideas About Clean Energy?

Stephen, the right generally makes national security the bedrock of their political platform. Sea level rise is the greatest tangible threat to U.S. sovereign territory. The value of land and infrastructure that will be inundated on the current path is at least three orders of magnitude greater than the damage that was wrought on 9/11 and in the vicinity of the cost of all the wars the country has fought since its inception. To my mind there is a real disconnect between Republican and Conservative (in my country) orthydoxy and their stance on climate change.

May 15, 2014    View Comment    

On How Fossil Fuels Subsidize Us

Robert, I love your squirrel analogy.

I would extend it to global warming. It is essentially heat, or if you will nut trees, growing like weeds in the ocean. If we don't thin out that growth we are going to be overrun, or in our case be parboiled. Even converting a portion of that heat to energy buys us time but some studies indicate there is enough potential there to replace all the fossil fuels you and Dr. Hagens notes we are rapidly depleting. As he points out extraction costs keep escalating but the cost of OTEC should come down with experience and economies of scale and the resource is never going to run out. In fact the more of it we extract the better the our environmental outcome should be.

May 12, 2014    View Comment    

On Moderate Environmentalists Go Nuclear

Paul, I might have agreed with you 25 years ago. I have had the pleasure of dealing with the industry however and have seen no inclination on their part to deal with their issues. It isn't me though that needs convincing. I think nuclear has a lot further to go to gain a social license to operate that OTEC but again that's only one man's opinion.

As I point out to John above, amongst its other benefits OTEC can buy us precious time to get the problem under control.

May 9, 2014    View Comment    

On Moderate Environmentalists Go Nuclear

John that's the thing with OTEC, it is a twofer. It is carbon free and mitigates storm surge and sea level rise, which are the greatest risks according to the IPCC. Nuclear is at best half a solution and has the waste, safety and proliferation issues to contend with. 

OTEC will also buy use time by moving heat into deep water.

A recent Rutgers study points out, “we may have underestimated the efficiency of the oceans as a storehouse for heat and energy. It may buy us some time.”

James Lovelock made a similar allusion recently in Nature.

OTEC is remotely produced energy but ask the Ukranians, Japanesse and those with thermal coal plants in their backyard, I think they might say they would prefer it that way.

May 9, 2014    View Comment    

On Moderate Environmentalists Go Nuclear

Paul, I too take exception. To false information like  "renewables will only be able to meet a small portion of our baseload needs."

Unfortunately Makai and every other current OTEC effort is focused on the cold water pipe design that I too believe is a technological dead end, which isn't to say there aren't better ways to do it. I concur however with Makai that you have to start small to prove the design, which means the platform won't be economically viable.

The thermodynamics demand at least 100 MW to be economic and with a deep water condenser and CO2 as a working fluid there are designs for a gigawatt plant.

And in case you hadn't noticed Nothern hemisphere cold climes have been deriving much of their energy from equatorial regions a half planet away for some time now.

May 9, 2014    View Comment    

On Moderate Environmentalists Go Nuclear

Bill, I recently put up a video that addresses these issues but I will summarize.

The overall themodynamic efficiency of OTEC is low and you do have to move a great deal of heat to the deep but this is an environmental benefit because on the surface this heat drives tropical storms and sea level rise. The recent warming hiatus is believed to have been caused by the movement of surface heat to a depth of about 100 to 300 meters in the Eastern Pacific due to unusually strong trade winds.

Indications are this will be an El Niño year which could return a good portion of that heat making this year and next record setters.

OTEC as I and a small group of others propose it should be implemented uses a deep water condenser design, which would move "a great deal" of surface heat to a depth of 1000 meters thus making it that much more difficult for this heat to return plus the fact this surface heat would be constantly driven to these depths by large scale OTEC implementation. At 1000 meters the coefficient of expansion of sea water is half that of the tropical surface so you gain a sea level benefit by relocating some of the surface heat.

The deep water condenser also addresses conventional OTEC's cost and environmental issues.

Prof. Gerard Nihous, Department of Ocean and Resources Engineering, University of Hawaii estimates that the maximum steady-state OTEC electrical power is about 14 TW (Terawatts)

The greatest climate risk to biological life in the oceans is thermal stratification. Moving surface heat to deeper water reduces the problem and induces convection that would bring the nutrients phytoplankton require to the surface, which in turn could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

With conventional OTEC there is also a risk of impingement and entrainment of marine life and eutrophication due to bringing too much nutrient rich water to the surface. With the deep water condenser design the only water movement is at the surface over the evaporator. The working fluid has to be pumped back to the surface rather than bringing cold water upward to the condenser. This decreases parasitic losses of the system as you are moving about 1/20th the amount of fluid.

At the surface wave action and disbursement of the evaporator can limit the impact on sea life.

Regarding the thermohaline circulation, Nihous takes this into consideration in his estimate of 14 terawatts. I also have considered a counter-current heat flow system that could lessen this impact even more.

The lesson from Nature the past fifteen years would seem to indicate that sea level rise would in fact be reduced by moving heat to deep water. When this heat drives tropical storms, it is fast tracked to the poles where it melts ice and more ominously permafrost.

As to cloud formation, low-level clouds reflect sunlight and lead to cooling, high level clouds warm the planet increasing the the greenhouse effect.  Recent studies indicate that as the ocean warms, low-level clouds tend to dissipate creating a positive feedback warming cycle.

To the best of my knowledge there is currently only one OTEC plant operating at a capacity on only 50 MW. I think however this is more a reflection on the cost and environmental problems of the conventional design, rather than the one my colleagues and I are trying to promote.


May 9, 2014    View Comment    

On Moderate Environmentalists Go Nuclear

The principle risk of climate change is sea level rise and storm surge. CCS or nuclear due nothing to prevent the half meter of sea leve rise that is a virtual certainty, without OTEC, by 2050 under any other scenario.

I find your notion of a strong military to defeat an enemy that is nothing more than a body of individuals struggling to survive the ravages of climate change bizarre.



May 9, 2014    View Comment