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Thermal Gradients Technologies

Last updated: September 2020

Authors: Jessica Arias-Gaviria, Andrés Osorio, Santiago Arango-Aramburo

Organization: Facultad de Minas – Universidad Nacional de Colombia sede Medellín, Colombia

The ocean can provide energy from thermal gradients between the Deep ocean water (DOW) and the surface through different technologies. DOW is the cold water located below the ocean’s surface layer (and below the thermocline), typically with stable temperatures of about 5°C and higher concentrations of nutrients than shallow waters. 

DOW is a renewable alternative to the many sustainability challenges that the Caribbean faces today. 

In a seawater air conditioning (SWAC) system, DOW is used to chill freshwater through a heat exchange facility, and the chilled freshwater then circulates through a distribution network in the consumer community. The process finishes with either the return of seawater to the ocean, or its use in other applications. It is also possible to use cold water from the bottom of lakes located close to cities.

An ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) plant uses the temperature gradient between DOW and surface water to produce electricity. The first OTEC plant was proposed in 1881. However, the technology has gained particular interest only in the past three decades, given the needs for alternative RE and its large potential, especially in tropical regions. OTEC technology can be implemented through three main cycles: A Closed Cycle (CC-OTEC), an Open Cycle (OC-OTEC), and a Hybrid Cycle (HC-OTEC).

Both SWAC and OTEC can operate in parallel with other technologies such as seawater greenhouses, water desalination plants, and more.

Source: Jessica Arias-Gaviria (2019) Deep Ocean Water Technologies and their contribution to sustainable development in the Caribbean. Reference: Laura Lucía Torres, www.holalula.com
Global Ocean Average Temperature Difference Between 20m and 1000m Depth. Source: IPCC (2012). Renewable Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Report.

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