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Norway To Make Electricity From Sea Salt

From the Agence France-Pressee:

This October handout picture shows workers at the Statkraft osmotic power plant in Tofte, south of Oslo. Norway has unveiled the world’s first osmotic power plant, harnessing the energy-unleashing encounter of freshwater and seawater to make clean electricity.

New Norway power plant uses salt to make electricity

November 24, 2009

TOFTE, Norway (AFP) – Norway unveiled the world’s first osmotic power plant on Tuesday, harnessing the energy-unleashing encounter of freshwater and seawater to make clean electricity.

"While salt might not save the world alone, we believe osmotic power will be an important part of the global energy portfolio," the chief on state-owned Statkraft, Baard Mikkelsen, told reporters.

Statkraft, which presents itself as the biggest renewable energy company in Europe, is running the osmotic power plant prototype on the banks of the Oslo fjord, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the Norwegian capital.

Osmotic energy is based on the widespread natural phenomenon of osmosis, which allows trees to drink through their leaves and plays on the different concentration levels of liquids.

When freshwater and seawater meet on either side of a membrane — a thin layer that retains salt but lets water pass — freshwater is drawn towards the seawater side. The flow puts pressure on the seawater side, and that pressure can be used to drive a turbine, producing electricity.

The point of osmotic power is "to use power not against nature but with nature," summed up Sverre Gotaas, in charge of innovation and growth at Statkraft.

Osmosis has been used by industry to desalinate seawater, but the company’s prototype at Tofte marks the first time it has been used to produce energy.

Although the plant will for now produce just enough electricity to power a coffee-maker, it could prove to be a great potential clean, environmentally friendly power source.

"It has very, very limited environmental consequences. It’s only positive and it can be used in many places," Frederic Hauge of environmental organisation Bellona [sic] told AFP, adding the development of osmotic power was "very exciting."

Because they produce energy from the encounter of freshwater and seawater, osmotic power plants could be installed almost anywhere where rivers flow into the ocean.

"Even countries that do not have oil, coal or mountains will be able to produce their own energy," Rasmus Hansson, the head of the World Wildlife Fund in Norway told AFP.

"It is very nice when industry imitates nature," he added, lauding Statkraft’s decision to invest around 150 million kroner (17.9 million euros, 26.8 million dollars) in a "revolutionary technology."

Statkraft hopes to start building the first commercial osmotic power plant, which would have a 25 megawatt capacity, enough to provide about 10,000 households with electricity, in 2015.

They almost had us going until they mentioned the World Wildlife Foundation was involved.

Note that they are calling salt a renewable resource. Also note that no mention is made about the environmental impact of this on the river and ocean, where these rivers and oceans meet.

Surely something must change for the fish and other creatures involved.

From Wikipedia:

Osmotic power

Possible negative environmental impact

Although the use of salinity gradients is a considerably environmentally friendly method of obtaining electrical power, there are possible negative effects to be considered. There is at least one way in which the use of this method of power production could harm the environment; the impact of the brackish water waste on the local marine and river environment.

Marine and river environments have obvious differences in water quality, namely salinity. Each species of aquatic plant and animal is adapted to survive in either marine, brackish, or freshwater environments. There are species that can tolerate both, but these species usually thrive best in a specific water environment. The main waste product of salinity gradient technology is brackish water. The discharge of brackish water into the surrounding waters, if done in large quantities and with any regularity, may alter the aquatic environment significantly.

Fluctuations in salinity will result in changes in the community of animals and plants living in that location. However, while some variation in salinity is usual, particularly where fresh water (rivers) empties into an ocean or sea anyway, these variations become less important for both bodies of water with the addition of brackish waste waters. Extreme salinity changes in an aquatic environment may result in findings of low densities of both animals and plants due to intolerance of sudden severe salinity drops or spikes.

The disappearance or multiplication of one or more aquatic organisms as a result of an influx of brackish water has the potential to cause ecosystem imbalance. The possibility of these negative effects should be considered by the operators of future large blue energy establishments.

Isn’t preserving wildlife supposed to be the fundamental mission of the World Wildlife Foundation? Well, obviously not any more.

"It has very, very limited environmental consequences. It’s only positive and it can be used in many places," Frederic Hauge of environmental organisation Bellona [sic] told AFP…

‘Bollona’ (bologna) is right.

But obviously all of these ‘green’ groups are willing to ignore any negative environmental impact as long as they can hold out hope for some new miracle energy source that doesn’t involve coal or nuclear power.

Especially just in time for Hopehagen.

By the way, one has to wonder why we haven’t heard more about the power from seawater before. It sounds almost too good to be true.

Apparently Statkraft is only going to invest $27 million dollar, out of which will come at least one power plant:

Statkraft hopes to start building the first commercial osmotic power plant, which would have a 25 megawatt capacity, enough to provide about 10,000 households with electricity, in 2015.

Compare that to the US’s new largest solar power plant, which Mr. Obama just (er) christened back in October in Florida, about which the Associated Press said:

The Desoto project cost $150 million to build and the power it supplies to some 3,000 homes and businesses.

Which means that this Norwegian seawater power plant will cost one fifth the money and provide more than three times the electricity.

Last time we checked, there was a lot of seawater around Florida.

It sounds to us like we had better hold off on building any more solar power plants (or windmills) until we figure out what is the most efficient way to proceed.

(Thanks to Helena for the heads up.)

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009. Comments are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Norway To Make Electricity From Sea Salt”

  1. proreason says:

    I think training rats to run on treadmills hooked up to power distribution networks could be the magic bullet of environmentalists.

    If there aren’t enough rats, then we could train conservatives. Sarah Palin, in particular, enjoys running.

  2. Douglas says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s a heck of a lot cheaper per megawatt hour to just install a dam in a river rather than to implement this idea. Membranes decay and will have to be replaced on a regular basis, particularly if they’re going to be subjected to varied stresses of currents and tides.

    This one sounds like more of a pipe dream than plans from 40 years ago to put windmill type turbines on the bottom of the sea floor in the gulf stream.

    • Helena says:

      You said it Douglas. The solar power plant mentioned in Florida cost $150 million and powers, or MAY power 3,000 households. The proposed salt water plant in Norway is estimated – at this point, before it is built – to cost $27 million and it MAY power 10,000 households. This is nonsense. This is way too much money for far too little power. Neither of these technologies is at a stage where tax money should be invested in them. They need a lot more r&d before they’ll be practical. What the devil is wrong with oil?

  3. pdsand says:

    So this will actually literally kill fish and decimate the marine ecosystem, but that’s “very very limited environmental circumstances”. Whereas the wildeyed theory that carbon dioxide gas being emitted little by little by cars all over the world into the vast atmosphere is somehow harmful to the planet or someday will become harmful by increasing global temperatures by a few degrees, is the impending apocalypse?

  4. U NO HOO says:

    Whenever I hear these hare-brained schemes I think of the explanation for why people start to yawn after someone else yawns.


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