# Ocean thermal energy conversion

Temperature differences between the surface and 1000m depth in the oceans

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) uses the temperature difference between cooler deep and warmer shallow or surface ocean waters to run a heat engine and produce useful work, usually in the form of electricity. OTEC is a base load technology that allows for production of electricity on a constant basis. However, the temperature differential is small and this impacts the economic feasibility of ocean thermal energy for electricity generation.

The most commonly used heat cycle for OTEC is the Rankine cycle using a low-pressure turbine. Systems may be either closed-cycle or open-cycle. Closed-cycle engines use working fluids that are typically thought of as refrigerants such as ammonia or R-134a. These fluids have low boiling points, and are therefore suitable for powering the system’s generator to generate electricity. Open-cycle engines use vapour from the seawater itself as the working fluid.

OTEC can also supply quantities of cold water as a by-product. This can be used for air conditioning and refrigeration and the nutrient-rich deep ocean water can feed biological technologies. Another by-product is fresh water distilled from the sea.[1]

Demonstration plants were first constructed in the 1880s and continue to be built. Currently the world's only operating OTEC plant is in Japan, overseen by Saga University.

OTEC diagram and applications

## History

Attempts to develop and refine OTEC technology started in the 1880s. In 1881, Jacques Arsene d'Arsonval, a French physicist, proposed tapping the thermal energy of the ocean. D'Arsonval's student, Georges Claude, built the first OTEC plant, in Matanzas, Cuba in 1930.[2][3] The system generated 22 kW of electricity with a low-pressure turbine.[4] The plant was later destroyed in a storm.[5]

In 1935, Claude constructed a plant aboard a 10,000-ton cargo vessel moored off the coast of Brazil. Weather and waves destroyed it before it could generate net power.[4] (Net power is the amount of power generated after subtracting power needed to run the system).

View of a land based OTEC facility at Keahole Point on the Kona coast of Hawaii (United States Department of Energy)

In 1956, French scientists designed a 3 MW plant for Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. The plant was never completed, because new finds of large amounts of cheap petroleum made it uneconomical.[4]

In 1962, J. Hilbert Anderson and James H. Anderson, Jr. focused on increasing component efficiency. They patented their new "closed cycle" design in 1967.[6] This design improved upon the original closed-cycle Rankine system, and included this in an outline for a plant that would produce power at lower cost than oil or coal. At the time, however, their research garnered little attention since coal and nuclear were considered the future of energy.[7]

Japan is a major contributor to the development of OTEC technology.[8] Beginning in 1970 the Tokyo Electric Power Company successfully built and deployed a 100 kW closed-cycle OTEC plant on the island of Nauru.[8] The plant became operational on 14 October 1981, producing about 120 kW of electricity; 90 kW was used to power the plant and the remaining electricity was used to power a school and other places.[4] This set a world record for power output from an OTEC system where the power was sent to a real (as opposed to an experimental) power grid.[9] 1981 also saw a major development in OTEC technology when Russian engineer, Dr. Alexander Kalina, used a mixture of ammonia and water to produce electricity. This new ammonia-water mixture greatly improved the efficiency of the power cycle.In 1994 Saga University designed and constructed a 4.5 kW plant for the purpose of testing a newly invented Uehara cycle, also named after its inventor Haruo Uehara. This cycle included absorption and extraction processes that allow this system to outperform the Kalina cycle by 1-2%.[10] Currently, the Institute of Ocean Energy, Saga University, is the leader in OTEC power plant research and also focuses on many of the technology's secondary benefits.

### Hainan

On April 13, 2013 Lockheed contracted with the Reignwood Group to build a 10 megawatt plant off the coast of southern China to provide power for a planned resort on Hainan island.[35] A plant of that size would power several thousand homes.[36][37] The Reignwood Group acquired Opus Offshore in 2011 which forms its Reignwood Ocean Engineering division which also is engaged in development of deepwater drilling.[38]

### Japan

Okinawa Prefecture has announced the start of the OTEC operation test at Kume Island on April 15, 2013. The main aim is to examine the expected fluctuation of electricity supply caused by changes in weather, season, and sea temperature. The testing and research will be conducted with the support of Saga University until the end of 2014. IHI Plant Construction Co. Ltd, Yokogawa Electric Corporation, and Xenesys Inc were entrusted to construct the 50 kilowattplant in the territory of the Okinawa Prefectural Deep Sea Water Research Center. The plant installation was finished in March and the first trial run was held on the 30th of March. The location was specifically chosen in order to utilize the existing intake pipe developed by the research center. The pipe had been used in the past for the intake of deep sea water for fishery and agricultural use.[39]

## Related activities

OTEC has uses other than power production.

### Desalination

Desalinated water can be produced in open- or hybrid-cycle plants using surface condensers to turn evaporated seawater into potable water. System analysis indicates that a 2-megawatt plant could produce about 4,300 cubic metres (150,000 cu ft) of desalinated water each day.[40] Another system patented by Richard Bailey creates condensate water by regulating deep ocean water flow through surface condensers correlating with fluctuating dew-point temperatures.[41] This condensation system uses no incremental energy and has no moving parts.

### Air conditioning

The 41 °F (5 °C) cold seawater made available by an OTEC system creates an opportunity to provide large amounts of cooling to industries and homes near the plant. The water can be used in chilled-water coils to provide air-conditioning for buildings. It is estimated that a pipe 1 foot (0.30 m) in diameter can deliver 4,700 gallons of water per minute. Water at 43 °F (6 °C) could provide more than enough air-conditioning for a large building. Operating 8,000 hours per year in lieu of electrical conditioning selling for 5-10¢ per kilowatt-hour, it would save $200,000-$400,000 in energy bills annually.[42]

The InterContinental Resort and Thalasso-Spa on the island of Bora Bora uses an OTEC system to air-condition its buildings.[43] The system passes seawater through a heat exchanger where it cools freshwater in a closed loop system. This freshwater is then pumped to buildings and directly cools the air.

In 2010, Copenhagen Energy opened a district cooling plant in Copenhagen, Denmark. The plant delivers cold seawater to commercial and industrial buildings, and has reduced electricity consumption by 80 percent.[44] Ocean Thermal Energy Corporation (OTE) has designed a 9800 ton SDC system for a vacation resort in The Bahamas.

### Chilled-soil agriculture

OTEC technology supports chilled-soil agriculture. When cold seawater flows through underground pipes, it chills the surrounding soil. The temperature difference between roots in the cool soil and leaves in the warm air allows plants that evolved in temperate climates to be grown in the subtropics. Dr. John P. Craven, Dr. Jack Davidson and Richard Bailey patented this process and demonstrated it at a research facility at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA).[45] The research facility demonstrated that more than 100 different crops can be grown using this system. Many normally could not survive in Hawaii or at Keahole Point.[citation needed]

The NELHA plant established in 1993 produced an average of 7,000 gallons of freshwater per day. KOYO USA was established in 2002 to capitalize on this new economic opportunity. KOYO bottles the water produced by the NELHA plant in Hawaii. With the capacity to produce one million bottles of water every day, KOYO is now Hawaii’s biggest exporter with $140 million in sales.[46] ## Political concerns Because OTEC facilities are more-or-less stationary surface platforms, their exact location and legal status may be affected by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty (UNCLOS). This treaty grants coastal nations 3-, 12-, and 200-mile (320 km) zones of varying legal authority from land, creating potential conflicts and regulatory barriers. OTEC plants and similar structures would be considered artificial islands under the treaty, giving them no independent legal status. OTEC plants could be perceived as either a threat or potential partner to fisheries or to seabed mining operations controlled by the International Seabed Authority. ## Cost and economics For OTEC to be viable as a power source, the technology must have tax and subsidy treatment similar to competing energy sources. Because OTEC systems have not yet been widely deployed, cost estimates are uncertain. One study estimates power generation costs as low as US$0.07 per kilowatt-hour, compared with $0.05 -$0.07 for subsidized wind systems.[47]

Beneficial factors that should be taken into account include OTEC's lack of waste products and fuel consumption, the area in which it is available,[citation needed] (often within 20° of the equator)[48] the geopolitical effects of petroleum dependence, compatibility with alternate forms of ocean power such as wave energy, tidal energy and methane hydrates, and supplemental uses for the seawater.[49]

## Thermodynamics

A rigorous treatment of OTEC reveals that a 20 °C temperature difference will provide as much energy as a hydroelectric plant with 34 m head for the same volume of water flow. The low temperature difference means that water volumes must be very large to extract useful amounts of heat. A 100MW power plant would be expected to pump on the order of 12 million gallons (44,400 metric tonnes) per minute.[50] For comparison, pumps must move a mass of water greater than the weight of the Battleship Bismark, which weighed 41,700 metric tons, every minute. This makes pumping a substantial parasitic drain on energy production in OTEC systems, with one Lockheed design consuming 19.55 MW in pumping costs for every 49.8 MW net electricity generated. For OTEC schemes using heat exchangers, to handle this volume of water the exchangers need to be enormous compared to those used in conventional thermal power generation plants,[51] making them one of the most critical components due to their impact on overall efficiency. A 100 MW OTEC power plant would require 200 exchangers each larger than a 20 foot shipping container making them the single most expensive component.[52]

### Variation of ocean temperature with depth

The total insolation received by the oceans (covering 70% of the earth's surface, with clearness index of 0.5 and average energy retention of 15%) is: 5.45×1018 MJ/yr × 0.7 × 0.5 × 0.15 = 2.87×1017 MJ/yr

We can use Lambert's law to quantify the solar energy absorption by water,

$-\frac{dI(y)}{dy}=\mu I$

where, y is the depth of water, I is intensity and μ is the absorption coefficient. Solving the above differential equation,

$I(y)=I_{0}\exp(-\mu y) \,$

The absorption coefficient μ may range from 0.05 m−1 for very clear fresh water to 0.5 m−1 for very salty water.

Since the intensity falls exponentially with depth y, heat absorption is concentrated at the top layers. Typically in the tropics, surface temperature values are in excess of 25 °C (77 °F), while at 1 kilometer (0.62 mi), the temperature is about 5–10 °C (41–50 °F). The warmer (and hence lighter) waters at the surface means there are no thermal convection currents. Due to the small temperature gradients, heat transfer by conduction is too low to equalize the temperatures. The ocean is thus both a practically infinite heat source and a practically infinite heat sink.[clarification needed]

This temperature difference varies with latitude and season, with the maximum in tropical, subtropical and equatorial waters. Hence the tropics are generally the best OTEC locations.

### Open/Claude cycle

In this scheme, warm surface water at around 27 °C (81 °F) enters an evaporator at pressure slightly below the saturation pressures causing it to vaporize.

$H_{1}=H_{f} \,$

Where Hf is enthalpy of liquid water at the inlet temperature, T1.

This temporarily superheated water undergoes volume boiling as opposed to pool boiling in conventional boilers where the heating surface is in contact. Thus the water partially flashes to steam with two-phase equilibrium prevailing. Suppose that the pressure inside the evaporator is maintained at the saturation pressure, T2.

$H_{2}=H_{1}=H_{f}+x_{2}H_{fg} \,$

Here, x2 is the fraction of water by mass that vaporizes. The warm water mass flow rate per unit turbine mass flow rate is 1/x2.

The low pressure in the evaporator is maintained by a vacuum pump that also removes the dissolved non-condensable gases from the evaporator. The evaporator now contains a mixture of water and steam of very low vapor quality (steam content). The steam is separated from the water as saturated vapor. The remaining water is saturated and is discharged to the ocean in the open cycle. The steam is a low pressure/high specific volume working fluid. It expands in a special low pressure turbine.

$H_{3}=H_{g} \,$

Here, Hg corresponds to T2. For an ideal isentropic (reversible adiabatic) turbine,

$s_{5,s}=s_{3}=s_{f}+x_{5,s}s_{fg} \,$

The above equation corresponds to the temperature at the exhaust of the turbine, T5. x5,s is the mass fraction of vapor at state 5.

The enthalpy at T5 is,

$H_{5,s}=H_{f}+x_{5,s}H_{fg} \,$

This enthalpy is lower. The adiabatic reversible turbine work = H3-H5,s .

Actual turbine work WT = (H3-H5,s) x polytropic efficiency

$H_{5}=H_{3}-\ \mathrm{actual}\ \mathrm{work}$

The condenser temperature and pressure are lower. Since the turbine exhaust is to be discharged back into the ocean, a direct contact condenser is used to mix the exhaust with cold water, which results in a near-saturated water. That water is now discharged back to the ocean.

H6=Hf, at T5. T7 is the temperature of the exhaust mixed with cold sea water, as the vapour content now is negligible,

$H_{7}\approx H_{f}\,\ at\ T_{7} \,$

The temperature differences between stages include that between warm surface water and working steam, that between exhaust steam and cooling water, and that between cooling water reaching the condenser and deep water. These represent external irreversibilities that reduce the overall temperature difference.

The cold water flow rate per unit turbine mass flow rate,

$\dot{m_{c}=\frac{H_{5}-\ H_{6}}{H_{6}-\ H_{7}}} \,$

Turbine mass flow rate, $\dot{M_{T}}=\frac{\mathrm{turbine}\ \mathrm{work}\ \mathrm{required}}{W_{T}}$

Warm water mass flow rate, $\dot{M_{w}}=\dot{M_{T}\dot{m_{w}}} \,$

Cold water mass flow rate $\dot{\dot{M_{c}}=\dot{M_{T}m_{C}}} \,$

### Closed Anderson cycle

Developed starting in the 1960s by J. Hilbert Anderson of Sea Solar Power, Inc. In this cycle, QH is the heat transferred in the evaporator from the warm sea water to the working fluid. The working fluid exits the evaporator as a gas near its dew point.

The high-pressure, high-temperature gas then is expanded in the turbine to yield turbine work, WT. The working fluid is slightly superheated at the turbine exit and the turbine typically has an efficiency of 90% based on reversible, adiabatic expansion.

From the turbine exit, the working fluid enters the condenser where it rejects heat, -QC, to the cold sea water. The condensate is then compressed to the highest pressure in the cycle, requiring condensate pump work, WC. Thus, the Anderson closed cycle is a Rankine-type cycle similar to the conventional power plant steam cycle except that in the Anderson cycle the working fluid is never superheated more than a few degrees Fahrenheit. Owing to viscous effects, working fluid pressure drops in both the evaporator and the condenser. This pressure drop, which depends on the types of heat exchangers used, must be considered in final design calculations but is ignored here to simplify the analysis. Thus, the parasitic condensate pump work, WC, computed here will be lower than if the heat exchanger pressure drop was included. The major additional parasitic energy requirements in the OTEC plant are the cold water pump work, WCT, and the warm water pump work, WHT. Denoting all other parasitic energy requirements by WA, the net work from the OTEC plant, WNP is

$W_{NP}=W_{T}+W_{C}+W_{CT}+W_{HT}+W_{A} \,$

The thermodynamic cycle undergone by the working fluid can be analyzed without detailed consideration of the parasitic energy requirements. From the first law of thermodynamics, the energy balance for the working fluid as the system is

$W_{N}=Q_{H}+Q_{C} \,$

where WN = WT + WC is the net work for the thermodynamic cycle. For the idealized case in which there is no working fluid pressure drop in the heat exchangers,

$Q_{H}=\int_{H}T_{H}ds \,$

and

$Q_{C}=\int_{C}T_{C}ds \,$

so that the net thermodynamic cycle work becomes

$W_{N}=\int_{H}T_{H}ds+\int_{C}T_{C}ds \,$

Subcooled liquid enters the evaporator. Due to the heat exchange with warm sea water, evaporation takes place and usually superheated vapor leaves the evaporator. This vapor drives the turbine and the 2-phase mixture enters the condenser. Usually, the subcooled liquid leaves the condenser and finally, this liquid is pumped to the evaporator completing a cycle.

## Environmental impact

Carbon dioxide dissolved in deep cold and high pressure layers is brought up to the surface and released as the water warms.[citation needed]

Mixing of deep ocean water with shallower water brings up nutrients and makes them available to shallow water life. This may be an advantage for aquaculture of commercially important species, but may also unbalance the ecological system around the power plant.[citation needed]

OTEC plants use very large flows of warm surface seawater and cold deep seawater to generate constant renewable power. The deep seawater is oxygen deficient and generally 20-40 times more nutrient rich (in nitrate and nitrite) than shallow seawater. When these plumes are mixed, they are slightly denser than the ambient seawater.[53] Though no large scale physical environmental testing of OTEC has been done, computer models have been developed to simulate the effect of OTEC plants.

### Hydrodynamic Modeling Work

In 2010, a computer model was developed to simulate the physical oceanographic effects of one or several 100 megawatt OTEC plant(s). The model suggests that OTEC plants can be configured such that the plant can conduct continuous operations, with resulting temperature and nutrient variations that are within naturally occurring levels. Studies to date suggest that by discharging the OTEC flows downwards at a depth below 70 meters, the dilution is adequate and nutrient enrichment is small enough so that 100 megawatt OTEC plants could be operated in a sustainable manner on a continuous basis. [54]

### Biological Modeling Work

The nutrients from an OTEC discharge could potentially cause increased biological activity if they accumulate in large quantities in the photic zone.[54] In 2011 a biological component was added to the hydrodynamic computer model to simulate the biological response to plumes from 100 megawatt OTEC plants. In all cases modeled (discharge at 70 meters depth or more), no unnatural variations occurs in the upper 40 meters of the ocean's surface.[53] The picoplankton response in the 110 - 70 meter depth layer is approximately a 10-25% increase, which is well within naturally occurring variability. The nanoplankton response is negligible. The enhanced productivity of diatoms (microplankton) is small. The subtle phytoplankton increase of the baseline OTEC plant suggests that higher-order biochemical effects will be very small.[53]

### Environmental Impact Studies

A previous Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the United States' NOAA from 1981 is available,[55] but needs to be brought up to current oceanographic and engineering standards. Studies have been done to propose the best environmental baseline monitoring practices, focusing on a set of ten chemical oceanographic parameters relevant to OTEC.[56] Most recently, NOAA held an OTEC Workshop in 2010 and 2012 seeking to assess the physical, chemical, and biological impacts and risks, and identify information gaps or needs.[57] [58]

## Technical difficulties

### Dissolved gases

The performance of direct contact heat exchangers operating at typical OTEC boundary conditions is important to the Claude cycle. Many early Claude cycle designs used a surface condenser since their performance was well understood. However, direct contact condensers offer significant disadvantages. As cold water rises in the intake pipe, the pressure decreases to the point where gas begins to evolve. If a significant amount of gas comes out of solution, placing a gas trap before the direct contact heat exchangers may be justified. Experiments simulating conditions in the warm water intake pipe indicated about 30% of the dissolved gas evolves in the top 8.5 meters (28 ft) of the tube. The trade-off between pre-dearation[59] of the seawater and expulsion of non-condensable gases from the condenser is dependent on the gas evolution dynamics, deaerator efficiency, head loss, vent compressor efficiency and parasitic power. Experimental results indicate vertical spout condensers perform some 30% better than falling jet types.

### Microbial fouling

Because raw seawater must pass through the heat exchanger, care must be taken to maintain good thermal conductivity. Biofouling layers as thin as 25 to 50 micrometres (0.00098 to 0.0020 in) can degrade heat exchanger performance by as much as 50%.[23] A 1977 study in which mock heat exchangers were exposed to seawater for ten weeks concluded that although the level of microbial fouling was low, the thermal conductivity of the system was significantly impaired.[60] The apparent discrepancy between the level of fouling and the heat transfer impairment is the result of a thin layer of water trapped by the microbial growth on the surface of the heat exchanger.[60]

Another study concluded that fouling degrades performance over time, and determined that although regular brushing was able to remove most of the microbial layer, over time a tougher layer formed that could not be removed through simple brushing.[23] The study passed sponge rubber balls through the system. It concluded that although the ball treatment decreased the fouling rate it was not enough to completely halt growth and brushing was occasionally necessary to restore capacity. The microbes regrew more quickly later in the experiment (i.e. brushing became necessary more often) replicating the results of a previous study.[61] The increased growth rate after subsequent cleanings appears to result from selection pressure on the microbial colony.[61]

Continuous use of 1 hour per day and intermittent periods of free fouling and then chlorination periods (again 1 hour per day) were studied. Chlorination slowed but did not stop microbial growth; however chlorination levels of .1 mg per liter for 1 hour per day may prove effective for long term operation of a plant.[23] The study concluded that although microbial fouling was an issue for the warm surface water heat exchanger, the cold water heat exchanger suffered little or no biofouling and only minimal inorganic fouling.[23]

Besides water temperature, microbial fouling also depends on nutrient levels, with growth occurring faster in nutrient rich water.[62] The fouling rate also depends on the material used to construct the heat exchanger. Aluminium tubing slows the growth of microbial life, although the oxide layer which forms on the inside of the pipes complicates cleaning and leads to larger efficiency losses.[61] In contrast, titanium tubing allows biofouling to occur faster but cleaning is more effective than with aluminium.[61]

### Sealing

The evaporator, turbine, and condenser operate in partial vacuum ranging from 3% to 1% of atmospheric pressure. The system must be carefully sealed to prevent in-leakage of atmospheric air that can degrade or shut down operation. In closed-cycle OTEC, the specific volume of low-pressure steam is very large compared to that of the pressurized working fluid. Components must have large flow areas to ensure steam velocities do not attain excessively high values.

### Parasitic power consumption by exhaust compressor

An approach for reducing the exhaust compressor parasitic power loss is as follows. After most of the steam has been condensed by spout condensers, the non-condensible gas steam mixture is passed through a counter current region which increases the gas-steam reaction by a factor of five. The result is an 80% reduction in the exhaust pumping power requirements.

## Cold air/warm water conversion

In winter in coastal Arctic locations, seawater can be 40 °C (72 °F) warmer than ambient air temperature. Closed-cycle systems could exploit the air-water temperature difference. Eliminating seawater extraction pipes might make a system based on this concept less expensive than OTEC. This technology is due to H. Barjot, who suggested butane as cryogen, because of its boiling point of −0.5 °C (31.1 °F) and its non-solubility in water.[63] Assuming a level of efficiency of realistic 4%, calculations show that the amount of energy generated with one cubic meter water at a temperature of 2 °C (36 °F) in a place with an air temperature of −22 °C (−8 °F) equals the amount of energy generated by letting this cubic meter water run through a hydroelectric plant of 4000 feet (1,200 m) height.[64]

Barjot Polar Power Plants could be located on islands in the polar region or designed as swimming barges or platforms attached to the ice cap. The weather station Myggbuka at Greenlands east coast for example, which is only 2,100 km away from Glasgow, detects monthly mean temperatures below −15 °C (5 °F) during 6 winter months in the year.[65]

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## Sources

• Renewable Energy From The Ocean - A Guide To OTEC, William H. Avery, Chih Wu, Oxford University Press, 1994. Covers the OTEC work done at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory from 1970–1985 in conjunction with the Department of Energy and other firms.