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Center to find fuel cells from ocean resources

Posted: 14 Aug 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:fuel cell? automotive? fuel research? power plant?

Looking into ocean power to generate electricity, hydrogen to fuel cars and heat exchangers to cool buildings is what the $13.75-million project at Florida Atlantic University's Center for Ocean Energy Technology covers (COET).

The Center has established a fleet of acoustic doppler current-profiler platforms to be employed later this year off Florida's Atlantic coast. By 2009, COET hopes to have permanent mooring sites chosen for underwater adaptations of wind turbines. The ocean turbines would be partnered using on-shore hydrogen storage facilities that can recharge fuel cells and generate electricity. The moorings will be storehouse in pumping facilities to pipe frigid deep ocean water coming from the Arctic Circle into buildings' heat exchangers for cooling.

Funding partnership
"The Gulf Stream works 365 days a year, allowing electricity generated from its current made available 24/7, compared with solar or wind resources. There is also a possibility of using the thermal difference between warm waters nearer the surface and the very cold water at the bottom which comes from the Arctic Circle," said Sue Skemp, executive director, COET.

The Center's original $5 million seed funding came from the Florida Technology, Research and Scholarship Board. Earlier, the Florida legislature chose COET to collaborate with four other Florida universities in the Florida Energy Systems Consortium.

Greater resources are being committed to harnessing ocean power. The Energy Department recently revived funding for ocean power research, and is seeking proposals for the potential of harnessing ocean power. Contracts are expected handed over by December 2009.

COET has also signed agreements with Heriot-Watt University and the University Edinburgh to work on ocean energy research.

How system works
Ocean turbines would be installed where currents are naturally funneled in areas like underwater canyons or between underwater mountains. By redesigning wind turbines, the Center seeks to stimulate their adaptation for ocean currents. Skemp said the ocean is full of geological features capable of generating electricity from its currents.

"There are a number of sites around the world where extracting energy from the ocean current is potentially viable," he added. "About 20 percent of the Gulf Stream is entrained between the Florida coast and the Bahamas. The topography of the ocean shelf acts like a funnel, guiding the current," he noted.

Skemp said: "We are taking a systems approach, not simply what is funded, but looking at a bigger picture. This includes researching the power plant system, the environment, the ecology and the resources of the Gulf Stream."

Because the electricity generated by ocean floor turbines will be produced at a relatively constant rate, the Florida Energy Systems Consortium will also evaluate methods for storing energy generated at night as hydrogen. It will use electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could then be used to recharge auto fuel cells as well as to produce electricity for the grid during times of peak energy demand.

Ongoing initiatives, plans
"The project seeks to harvest chilly waters at the bottom of the Gulf Stream, similar to a project already underway in Hawaii," Skemp said. Electrical generators in Hawaii currently harness geothermal gradients inside lava tubes. Researchers are also experiencing piping cold water ashore from the ocean depths for heat exchangers used to cool buildings.

The first Florida project, starting later this summer, will establish temporary moorings 13 to 15 miles offshore for acoustic doppler current-profilers used to evaluate how much the Gulf Stream wanders. The fleet of acoustic sensors will evaluate specific sites for energy-generation potential, as well as to catalog the local ecology and evaluate the environmental impact of an underwater power plant.

The U.S. Minerals Management Service is expected to grant leases for offshore sites near Fort Lauderdale later this summer. The current-profiler platforms are expected to begin delivering data about the suitability of specific sites for permanent moorings by the end of 2008.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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