Lockheed Martin Wants to Pull Electricity from the Ocean’s Heat

Posted: April 22, 2013  |  By: Smithsonian.com

If all goes to plan, a new deal inked by two of the world’s biggest companies could give rise to a sustainability advocate’s paradise: a resort near the South China Sea that gets all of its power from the heat of the water nearby through a new type of renewable energy.

The deal, says a news release issued by Lockheed Martin, will see the defense giant partner with the Reignwood Group—a massive company that does everything from selling Red Bull in China to operate hotels and golf courses, managing properties and operating a private aircraft service—to develop the first commercial plant for a new type of renewable energy generation system known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).

Ocean thermal energy conversion draws on the natural temperature gradient that forms in tropical oceans worldwide. The surface of the ocean, heated by the Sun, is much warmer than the water deeper down. OTEC plants use the warm surface water to boil a liquid with a really low boiling point in a low-pressure container to form steam. This steam then drives a turbine, generating electricity. Colder water from deeper down is pulled up in a pipe, and by having this cold water pass by the pipe containing the steam, the steam is condensed back into a liquid. The liquid flows around, is heated by the warm surface water, and turns into steam once more—on and on, generating electricity from the temperature gradient in the ocean.

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