Researchers at MIT are beginning to mine the inherent energy difference between “salinity gradients” in ocean and fresh water to produce energy through a process called Pressure Retarded Osmosis (PRO). It is estimated that if this resource can be harnessed it will produce more than 1,600 TW/hr of energy per year or about half the current annual power generation of the European Union.
Generating Power Where World’s Rivers Meet Oceans
PRO involves membranes, water treatment equipment, pressure exchangers, turbines and generators. According to MIT researchers, “through osmosis water from a less salty stream of water crosses a membrane to a saltier side creating a flow of water that can be sent through a turbine thereby creating power.” The process is a natural phenomenon where freshwater on one side of the membrane will naturally flow through the membrane toward water with a higher salinity to “equal out” the salinity between the two sides. The water flows creating pressurized water which is run through a turbine, generating electricity.
The idea for spreading the technology includes creating osmotic power plants in the basements of existing factories where rivers run into the sea. It is estimated that an osmotic power plant the size of one American football field would provide enough energy to power 30,000 European households.
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References and related links:
- The ISME Journal – Shape and evolution of the fundamental niche in marine Vibrio
- Salinity and faunal distribution in the Pocasset River – ResearchGate
- Salinity-gradient-power cell’s surprisingly high voltage gives it best cost-per-watt of its kind