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Thursday, August 4, 2011

OUR NEXT FRONTIER: THE OCEAN--The Blue Revolution is the Optimal Solution for Japan

I thought I'd add a seventh posting to my series on the ocean as the next frontier for economic development.  The USA and Europe are too focused on their internal problems.  Japan is in a state of panic about their options and must take extraordinary steps now to save their future.  Fukushima was so devastating and  monumentally cataclysmic that this is the only nation that can galvanize a quantum leap in ocean development.  This is all so simple.  They have no hope if they want to only continue to import fossil fuels and install solar and wind systems.  The ocean is their last chance to save their country.  

The following article was published in the Huffington Post in May, and follows a number of contributions related to Japan and the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear catastrophe that can also be found in HuffPo (10April2011,  7April2011, 14March2011):

Patrick Takahashi

Patrick Takahashi


The Blue Revolution Is the Optimal Solution for Japan

Posted: 05/24/11 04:29 PM ET

During the past two months, I have spent some time in Japan and, no particular surprise, they are in deep trouble regarding energy supply. The great Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster set them backto square 1945, and they will need to reinvent the country again. I have a sense they will ultimately recover, but only with the right decisions.
Fukushima was a repeat of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: nuclear devastation symbolic of a nation already in decline. I again visited these two atomic-bombed sites, and found the vitality and metamorphosis remarkable. Can the nation rebound a second time? Clearly, nuclear fission will never again become an option for the country.
Japan is too crowded for biomass, not sunny enough for solar and has limited wind potential. While they are number two to Germany in solar photovoltaic cell sales, the fact of the matter is that, like the rest of the world, the total amount of renewables used today is far less than five percent of the total energy used, with most of this being hydroelectric power. Furthermore, the winds and sun are intermittent, and can safely accommodate only up to 20 percent the electricity load. What can they do about the remaining 80 percent, plus ground and air transport requirements? These challenges, actually, are also faced by the rest of the world, but Japan has to address them right now.
First, forget more fossil energy, easy to do, for they have essentially none anyway. It would be smart to ignore this option, for there will soon be something like a carbon tax (cartoon above by Judy Horacek), as global warming won't be ignored for too much longer. Mind you, nothing much might happen for as long as a decade, but someday, when the crunch of peak oil and global warming results in something catastrophic, irrational steps will arbitrarily be taken. Japan could well be at an economic advantage under these conditions. They do have some potential for marine methane hydrates (MMH), but the cost will be astronomical and, although there could be twice the amount of energy in these deep sea deposits compared to all the known coal, oil and natural gas resources, MMH is too dispersed and difficult to harvest.
Second, geothermal energy seems attractive, for onsens (geo-spas) can be found throughout the country. Their current geo-production is on the order of 500 megawatts, around half that of a nuclear power plant. So even if they can increase geothermal electricity by a factor of 10 (and this won't happen because very little of this resource approaches the temperatures needed to make the effort worthwhile) they won't even match the production of all those nuclear facilities now decommissioned in and around Fukushima.

Third, become truly serious about energy conservation. Room fans are flying off the shelves, so people are already anticipating an uncomfortable summer. Use of people movers, escalators and elevators, will mostly be halted, major cities will darken in the very early evening, companies will face a long recessionary period and life will become supremely inconvenient for the populace.

But I can offer a possible solution. The ocean is the only productive answer for Japan. They don't have much in terms of current, tidal and salinity gradient resources. Waves are possible, and this country has had several pioneering projects, with yet another one being planned. Certainly, continue this development, but I've long worried that this option will never become truly competitive, mostly because of the cost required to protect these devices from major storms.

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) remains as the best marine alternative. Japan's only successful experiment, led by Toshiba and Tokyo Electric Power Company, occurred 30 years ago on Nauru. Unfortunately, yet another natural disaster, a hurricane this time, wiped out the experiment. OTEC can be used to power a grazing plantship, where the economic opportunities would include: next generation fisheries, marine biomass plantations (from which methane and various biofuels can be produced at sea), electricity (plus hydrogen can be electrolyzed) and freshwater. Certainly, these platforms can be utilized to capture the the sun and winds, too. Of particular intrigue is the potential to prevent hurricanes and remediate global warming.
Yes, there are, further, the exotic options:
1. Solar power plant in space, with Japan already leading the R&D of this option. But at $21 billion to provide electricity for just a fraction of a nuclear facility, the costs are way too high.
2. Nuclear fusion remains a long term option. Japan is leading the international consortium on materials research for this technology, but commercialization could well be in the neighborhood of 2050, and only with a lot of luck and necessary funding.
So, faced with the need to make immediate decisions, the sea around them is clearly the future for Japan. It was once the top shipbuilding nation. South Korea replaced them eight years ago, and China looms to become #1 in 2015. However, Japan has the basic infrastructure to build those floating platforms, and can return to prominence through the Blue Revolution.
For the past two decades, I have provided at least a dozen lectures in Japan to spark interest in the ocean as the ideal venue for international cooperation, most recently to the Japan Marine Technology Society. (To the right with Chairman Toshitusugu Sakou.)  The opportunity is now at hand for the country to take the leading role in partnering with the world to develop the Pacific International Ocean Station (PIOS), the proposed ocean version of the International Space Station (ISS). This outer space effort cost more than a hundred billion dollars, but produced, essentially, nothing.
The organizers of Blue Revolution Hawaii have already discussed Japanese participation in PIOS, for Shimizu's Green Float concept is very similar to our vision. Suddenly and dramatically, that 9.0 earthquake thrust the Blue Revolution into a commanding position as the optimal solution for Japan's future. At only one percent the cost of the ISS, PIOS can establish a marine pathway for economic progress, not only for Japan, but the rest of the world. Japan, if it chose to, can assume the leadership role for this magnificent global enterprise, and take that important step towards a progressive recovery.

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Patrick Takahashi
Retired Professor of Engineering

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Recency  | 
08:00 PM on 5/27/2011
Dear Sir: You rather quickly and superficially dismiss Japan's gas hydrate potetnial as "too expensive"; presumably as the resource is "too dispersed". Actually the natural gas in Japan's hydrates is of the most promising, highly concentrated variety. Also, the costs of extraction are totally unknown but the subject of ongoing R
Patrick Takahashi
Retired Professor of Engineering
01:58 PM on 5/28/2011
You are the second person to chide me for me attitude about marine methane hydrates. The other was Michael Max:

who has spent a career resurrecting the subject.

Notwithstanding, I not only think that MMH will be too expensive to harvest, there is the danger of The Venus Syndrome:

Then again, perhaps one way to ameliorate the problem is to safely use it over a prolonged period.

I was part of a group twenty years ago that wrote a book on seabed resources, including a chapter on MMH, where we speculated that there was twice the amount of energy in these deposits than all the known coal, oil and natural gas:
06:05 PM on 5/29/2011
Dear Sir

Yes, it was clear that you thought it might be too expensive, my question was why you might think so (and why you thought they were a "disperse" resource). I think the research yet to be done will address the cost issue. I think the resource concentration issue has already been resolved. Its clear future cost scenarios for energy are a bit difficult to predict.

As for a "Venus Syndrome" , I read the "..jiggles all the marine methane hydrate to the surface.." and can understand your fear. However, such a thing is absolutely not possible. Research over the past 20 years has shown that 2% or less (at most) of marine methane hydrate are even remotely susceptible to dissociation under future climate change scenarios. And how much of that might reach the atmosphere is not clear, but clearly yet another strong filter.

There are many types of hydrate. Only a small portion is amenable to production and only a small portion is susceptible to climate change response and these two portions are largely mutually exclusive.

12:21 PM on 5/25/2011
Pat I had an extended debate with Jeffrey Styles on this subject at .

Fukushima was inundated by a Tsunami but the coastal regions of the world face devistating inundations of their own in the coming century due to sea level rise.

OTEC can prevent this by limiting thermal expansion due to cooling the ocean waters, converting part of the ocean’s liquid volume to gas by electrolysis and thereby enabling the Hydrogen Economy, and by desalinating part of the ocean’s liquid volume and moving it to where it is needed in a world thirsting for clean water.

By starting from scratch using OTEC, Japan could come out ahead of the pack on the renewable energy front in the long run.

Hopefully they heed your counsel.

Jim Baird
Patrick Takahashi
Retired Professor of Engineering
08:14 PM on 5/25/2011
As I indicated, I certainly agree with you that Japan can make a quantum leap for their future by leading the world to intelligently develop the ocean in harmony with the marine environment. This is really their only hope for regained prominence. Tragedy has a way of spurring monumental decisions.

The time has come to shift all war and space spending towards rescuing Planet Earth and Humanity, We all need to work together beginning now to overcome Peak Oil and Global Warming. Alas, I see no sign of inspiration among the Group of Eight, as their Deauville Summit will be focused on the Arab World. The Durban discussion at the end of the year will only continue to pass on decision-making to some future time when it might by then be too late.
10:15 AM on 5/26/2011
I agree, but corporate hegemony is alive and well. Big government funds big business with research dollars for Cold Water pipes which I believe is a technological dead-end.

You can transfer far more heat - far more rapidly - and accordingly at far less cost, in a heat pipe utilizing a phase change from liquid to gas and back again than you can in liquid alone. Consider a hurricane upended into the depths and when you combine this with a closed, counter-current, heat transfer system, which recycles the latent heat of condensation back to the surface you overcome OTEC's CO2 problem, impingement and entrainment problems as well as Thermohaline circulation concerns. You also overcome Nihous' limit for annual production of 5 terawatts.

Unfortunately I don't see the cooperation you call for even amongst those of us who believe whole heartedly in OTEC and therefore it is little wonder we aren't making inroads.

I see however hope in Japan's current troubles for a breakthrough and would love to contribute.
See bio on the Aesop Institute website
05:53 PM on 5/24/2011

A good place to start is the Energy Catalyst invented by Andrea Rossi.

These 4.7 kW heat generating modules are in production. $100 worth of Nickel and Hydrogen fuels each one for 6 months. Power is expected to come from similar modules for a penny per kilowatt hour.

330 are being tested for assembly into a one Megawatt heating plant in Greece scheduled to open in October. A similar one may follow in the USA.

See Energy Catalyst at

This is a Black Swan, a highly improbable innovation with huge impact potential. See Black Swans on the same site for a few others. More are not ready to emerge quite yet. But, all promise to provide cheap green energy.

See Green Light on the Aesop site to understand why decentralized energy is urgently needed all across the planet.

The surprise is that Black Swans can make a much more rapid impact than might be anticipated.

A 24/7 initiative to validate, develop and mass-produce them could remove dependence on fossil and radioactive fuels faster than most imagine.

A few entrepreneurs are leading the way. They need nothing more than adequate support to change the entire energy landscape.

Goodbye coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power. This is a whole new ball game.
Patrick Takahashi
Retired Professor of Engineering
10:34 PM on 5/24/2011
I'm tempted to respond, but feel kind today.

The Dow Jones Industrials crashed 513 (-4.31%) to 11,384, the biggest drop since December of 2008 when the world was at the precipice of another Great Depression. The Dow is now 1.67% lower than at the beginning of this year.  I'm actually looking forward to another 1500 point decline so that I can invest for the first time in more than two years.  Germany stayed about the same, but Brazil sunk 5.7%, Hong Kong 5% and much of Europe and Japan around -3.5%.  Interestingly enough, gold dropped $16/toz to $1645 and oil also declined, the NYMEX all the way down to $85/barrel and the Brent Spot to $105/barrel.  If oil drops to $50/barrel, it is all over to renewable energy development.  Yes, the U.S. economy looks weaker, but the blame is being placed more on Spain and Italy.  It they go, so will the Euro and Europe in general.  Murmurs of double dip are returning, but I worry more about the next Great D.

Emily in the Atlantic is weakening, Eugene in the east Pacific is doing the same and Typhoon Muifa, barreled through Okinawa as a Catergory 3 storm (see clip):

is taking that track I earlier described, only skirting Zhoushan and Shanghai and head more north than west.  Looks like, except for some wind and rain, China will be largely spared, although Quingdao and Weihai could still be threatened.  

Tropical Storm Merbok will become a typhoon, but will harmlessly move north and east away from Japan.


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