The yacht carries a huge rack of Lithium-Ion batteries capable of storing up to three days' worth of sailing power, easily enough to allow transit to continue throughout the night, or during overcast skies.
James Burgess | OilPrice.com
The World Future Energy Summit has recently finished in Abu Dhabi and for me one of the highlights was the Turanor, an impressive solar powered yacht designed and built by Planet Solar. It is the largest boat of its kind to ever sail and the first to ever circumnavigate the globe powered entirely by the sun. It steadily cruises at an average speed of five knots, but is capable of reaching more than double that on clear, calm, sunny days.
The project was conceived by Raphaël Domjan of Switzerland as a method of demonstrating the possibilities that current solar technology holds for clean transportation. The yacht carries a huge rack of Lithium-Ion batteries capable of storing up to three days' worth of sailing power, easily enough to allow transit to continue throughout the night, or during overcast skies. Never once in thousands of miles has the boat had to turn on its diesel back up, in fact the diesel is only on board is to satisfy the insurance companies.
Whilst the Turanor has sailed around the world it has generated lots of media attention and public interest which has helped to boost recognition of the solar industry and the potential there within. At a price of $20 million the boat will not itself be available to everyone, but the investors are already experiencing ROI from the concepts that it has proven and the other ideas it has tested. One useful technology that could be put into the general market is the software created by Planet Solar which uses weather data to steer the boat into the sunniest areas, a very useful tool for future solar transport. The mammoth trip also demonstrated that neither the solar panels nor batteries suffered significant wear from salt or water, another important discovery for future solar powered boats.
Solar transport still faces many obstacles before it can be mass produced for sale to the general public at reasonable prices, it is more likely that the first solar powered yachts will be available for luxury cruisers. Still, it is obvious that the basic concepts of clean transportation are tenable, now we just need to be patient and wait.
Using Ocean Temperature Differences to Create Renewable Energy
Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) is an idea for creating renewable energy by exploiting the difference in ocean temperatures between the surface and the seabed. The OTEC permit office first opened in 1981 as part of NOAA, America's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the marine counterpart to NASA. It was created after the oil price spike of the 1970's when interest in alternative power sources rose. Oil prices eventually settled and as a result interest in the alternative power sources dwindled, so in 1994, just 13 years later the OTEC office was closed without ever having issued a permit. Good old American bureaucracy.
Now, again during times of high oil prices, alternative energy sources are back with vengeance. All options are being considered and one of them is OTEC. Luckily the concept is reasonably simple. A fluid with a low boiling point, such as ammonium, is vaporised in a heat exchanger using surface water from the sea with an average temperature of about 25°C. The resulting gas has a sufficient pressure to drive a turbine and create electricity. The gas is then cooled using seawater pumped up from a depth of about one kilometre and with an average temperature of about 5°C. The liquid ammonia can then be reheated and the whole process started again. Theoretically this means that OTEC plants can be built anywhere with a surface water temperature of 25°C and a depth of at least one kilometre.
One company pursuing OTEC technology is Lockhead Martin, which is collaborating with a smaller firm called Makai Ocean Engineering to build a 10 megawatt plant in Hawaii that is projected to open in 2015. Then if this plant is successful the idea is to construct a 100 megawatt plant by 2020.
Most of the technology necessary can be taken from existing areas of engineering, such as deepwater oil drilling, where the heat exchangers and pipework required to make a 10MW plant already exist. The 100MW facility however will need a pipe that is not only 1km long but also ten metres in diameter, in order to supply the necessary amount of water. It must also be strong enough to resist waves and ocean climates for decades. Kerry Kehoe, the current head of OTEC activities at NOAA, estimates such a facility could cost $1 billion.
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