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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


David Karl, founder of the Center for Microbial Oceanography (C-MORE, co-sponsor), with Dean (of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology) Brian Taylor and Ginger Armbrust (on the board of the EarthFree Institute--co-sponsor), welcomed the conferees to the science, technology, engineering and modeling of  Enhanced Ocean Upwelling gathering today at the East-West Center.

According to Professor Karl, the ocean is warming, becoming more acidic and losing biodiversity.  Our climate is changing and largely getting worse.   Of course, most of us, especially if you're not a Republican, know all this, but the larger question is, what can we do about it?

For example, are you aware that there is no current conceptual understanding of the sea?  Only recently did the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) include the ocean as relevant to global climate change.  Ocean upwelling = marine life = 50% of primary production = the pulse of Planet Earth.  With upwelling, large phytoplankton, or diatoms, increase in concentration, which are consumed by copepods, then fish.  Can this life cycle be engineered to reverse global warming?
Or, phosphates are absolutely required for agriculture, and we are reaching Peak Phosphorus again (first time occurred in the 1800's).  Our deep ocean waters might be a future source, but more importantly, upwelling can provide the nutrients (including phosphates) for next generation ocean farms to produce food, biofuels and green chemicals, a more sensible proposition.

Luis Vega, director of the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center, provided some history, engineering, regulatory and economic aspects of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).  He has been working in this field for more than a quarter century.  One of the remarkable facets of this topic is the number of individuals I know continuing to have faith in this sustainable pathway, even though OTEC currently generates zero MW of electricity.

Frederic Berg of Honolulu Seawater Air Conditioning summarized their commercial project.  Average temperature of ocean water is 39 F, while their inlet temperature at 1,741 feet is 44 F.  For Honolulu, saves 77 million kWh/year (178,000 barrels/year) and reduces carbon dioxide emissions the equivalent of 15,000 cars.  The cost will be in the range of $250 million.

Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, CEO of Live Fuels, and also on the Board of the EarthFree Institute, shared the truth about algae, biofuels and the future of food, particularly about the dirty dozen of algae growth problems.  Just the pumping of water at a land-based algae facility costs the equivalent of $50/bbl of petroleum.  There were eleven more.

In comparison with terrestrial biomass, a billion tons grown on land to replace a third of the petroleum we use would mean a 5.5 times higher use of fertilizer.  She thus also talked about Peak Phosphorus and the potential provided by the ocean.  Unfortunately, though, in this transition, 99% of algae companies could well fail.  No question that higher value co-products will drive the field at this early phase.

There were nine other speakers in shorter afternoon presentations dealing with the full range of science, technology and applications, including my day-ending talk on the Pacific International Ocean Station.  A few highlights:

While Gerard Nihous of the University of Hawaii was careful to underscore that this number did not have much credibility, it represents an attempt to venture on the maximum possible number of 100 MW OTEC powerplants capable of being supported by our oceans.  The answer?  The high end potential is half a million...which would mean up to 25 terawatts of power.  Our society today uses around 15 terawatts.  Thus, he doubled my hope by providing a complement to fusion, for I don't think intermittent wind and solar energies can adequately support our current society of 7 billion and more.

William Munslow of Lockheed Martin Corporation mentioned that the desired 100 MW OTEC system will need a pipe with a diameter of 10 meters (size of D.C. Metro tunnel), to give you an appreciation of scale.  But their current focused project will be a 5-10 MW pilot plant on a floating platform (left).  The U.S. Navy and LM have each contributed around $14 million to the effort so far, with some added funds from the U.S. Department of Energy.  Lockheed, of course, was the first to attain net positive energy with Mini-OTEC off the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in 1979.

Charity Deluca of LiveFuels provided a short history of algae companies since 2006.  You can't afford to dry algae, so what about a bio-solution:  FISH.  One of their pathways is to grow algae, which is consumed by small fish, from which oil is extracted for fuel, but, for now, mostly higher value products.

I found it astonishing that towards the end of the day, all the participants were still here, and no one was sleeping.

The workshop continues on Wednesday.

The Dow Jones Industrials went up 33 to 11,556, with world markets also mostly up.  Gold increased $4/toz to $1713, while the WTI price of oil is just under $100/barrel and the Brent Spot at $111/barrel.


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