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Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Primer

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The vertical temperature distribution in the open ocean can be simplistically described as consisting of two layers separated by an interface. The upper layer is warmed by the sun and mixed to depths of about 100 m by wave motion. The bottom layer consists of colder water formed at high latitudes. The interface or thermocline is sometimes marked by an abrupt change in temperature but more often the change is gradual. The temperature difference between the upper (warm) and bottom (cold) layers ranges from 10°C to 25°C, with the higher values found in equatorial waters. This implies that there are two enormous reservoirs providing the heat source and the heat sink required for a heat engine. A practical application is found in a system (heat engine) designed to transform the thermal energy into electricity. This is referred to as OTEC for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.

Several techniques have been proposed to use this ocean thermal resource; however, at present it appears that only the closed cycle (CC-OTEC) and the open cycle (OC-OTEC) schemes have a solid foundation of theoretical as well as experimental work. In the CC-OTEC system, warm surface seawater and cold seawater are used to vaporize and condense a working fluid, such as anhydrous ammonia, which drives a turbine-generator in a closed loop producing electricity. In the OC-OTEC system, seawater is flash-evaporated in a vacuum chamber. The resulting low-pressure steam is used to drive a turbine-generator. Gold seawater is used to condense the steam after it has passed through the turbine. The open-cycle can, therefore, be configured to produce desalinated water as well as electricity.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2002

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  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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