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Home > Feature Articles > Alternative Energy Solutions

Salt Power in Estuaries Capture Energy Released from Fresh/Salt Water Mixing

Salt and fresh water mix at river mouths and the warmth generated can be turned into energy

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Salt power mixes sea and river water -- one by the fjord south of Oslo, the other at a Dutch seaside lake -- are due on stream this year and may point to a new source of clean energy in estuaries from the Mississippi to the Yangtze.

The experiments seek to capture the energy released when fresh and salt water are mixed. They build on knowledge that has been around for centuries -- in one case imitating the process of osmosis used by trees to suck water from their roots.

Although they are far from being economically viable, if eventually successful they might help a long-term quest to diversify away from fossil fuels such as coal and oil, widely blamed for stoking global warming.

Rivers flow around the clock, an advantage compared to variable wind or solar power.

The science at the heart of the projects is the fact that when salt and fresh water mix at river mouths, they are typically warmed by 0.1 degree Celsius (0.2 Fahrenheit). Dutch scientists say such energy at all the world's estuaries is equivalent to 20 percent of world electricity demand.

Makers of membranes such as General Electric, Dow Chemical, Hydranautics or Japan's Toray Industries focus most on membrane technology for desalination -- a market growing by about 15 percent a year worldwide. Ellen Mellody of GE Infrastructure, Water and Process Technology said the company has "an aspirational goal" of producing fresh water from salt through membranes at a cost of 10 cents per cubic metre, down from 70 cents to a dollar.

Membrane-based technologies are voracious energy consumers and goals are to cut energy consumption of membrane desalination by 80 percent over 15 years.

Source: Reuters InterActive Carbon Markets Community - a free, gated online network for carbon market and climate policy professionals.



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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