Focus: Energy and Water Resources
Location: Willemstad, Curaçao
What is the most plentiful yet underutilized source of energy on Earth? If you answered “the sun,” you’d be right. One of the major reasons for solar energy’s unfulfilled potential is the fact that the vast majority of sunlight that hits Earth goes right into the oceans. All of civilization could be powered 6,000 times over by the energy that gets absorbed by oceans, and for the most part that energy just gets soaked up by seawater.
To tap this potential, Bluerise, a Dutch company founded in 2010, has pioneered technology that uses the temperature gradient of the ocean to generate electricity, provide drinking water, water crops, and serve myriad other purposes on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Their Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technology taps deep into the cold water a kilometer below the ocean surface. Warm surface water evaporates to power the turbines and the deepwater condenses the vapor, creating a cycle that generates electricity. The major advantage of OTEC over renewable energy sources like solar and wind is that the ocean’s thermal gradient is stable, meaning that Bluerise can provide a base load source of electricity for isolated communities, like islands, that can’t afford a sudden drop in power. The other services that Bluerise provides are equally invaluable to equatorial regions. Small islands can use their technology to distill seawater using little energy, instead of resorting to reverse osmosis and other traditional, energy-intensive methods. They can pump the cold deepwater through crop-beds to condense water into the beds, allowing farmers to grow temperate crops in tropical regions. They can use the deepwater to cool down water in air conditioning units and take advantage of the ocean’s enormous potential as a heat sink, reducing the energy necessary for air conditioning by up to ninety percent.
Curaçao is getting the opportunity to house Bluerise’s 20-hectare Ocean Ecopark, an industrial park fully powered and provided for by deep seawater technology. The project, when finished, will produce 500 kilowatts of electricity for the Curaçao International Airport and will house cold-water greenhouses, a desalination plant, and an aquacultural operation fed by deepwater. Bluerise won a prize in the Climate-KIC Business Competition in November of 2012. They plan to expand throughout the Caribbean so other island nations can access one of their greatest underutilized resources. By exploring the fantastic power of one of the Earth’s most undervalued energy resources, Bluerise has the potential to bring a new, sustainable future to Curaçao and beyond.
Environmental Impact: Avoided use of fossil fuels, including avoided emission of GHGs and harmful substances
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