Clean Power

Published on September 4th, 2009 | by Susan Kraemer

41

Mining Hydrothermal Vents For Renewable Electricity, Drinking Water + Valuable Minerals

September 4th, 2009 by  

Only after I snoozed my way through high school science class did science become more compelling than science fiction.

Back then, there was just no compelling reason to pay attention. Just a browzy fly buzzing in a smelly boring lab full of long agreed-upon dull principles that were really neither here nor there. In those days there were no colliding continents or hydrothermal vents or extremophile lifeforms. We looked to sci-fi for that.

Who knew that our planet would soon be busting at the seams with 7 billion of us. That our fossil fuel use would threaten our survival with climate changes — on a level unseen on the planet since Cyanobacteria made it safe it for oxygen-breathers 4 billion years ago.

Or that we would not only discover vast strange heat sources under the ocean but that we’d actually consider mining these hydrothermal vents for renewable energy: That was the sort of story you’d only find in science fiction back then.

But yet, here we are. This is not science fiction:

The energy potential is staggering. In the Gigawatt range per vent.

The Marshall Hydrothermal Recovery System would use the heat from hydrothermal vents 7,000 feet under the sea to make electricity. Its temperature is incredibly high, 750 degrees Fahrenheit; hot enough to melt lead, but it does not boil because of the intense pressures at the depths where the vents are located.

Superheated fluid would be propelled up through a through a (well insulated!) pipe to an oil platform located on the surface above the vent. The superheated fluid is carried by means of flow velocity, convection, conduction, and flash steam pressure as it rises and the ambient pressure is decreased.

Once delivered to the platform, the heat energy contained in the fluid can be extracted to generate electricity. Since the amount of energy available from any thermal system is dependent on the difference in temperature between two points, the system also includes a Thermal Enhancement Pipe.

This is simply an open pipe, like a large drinking straw, which extends down below the layer of relatively warm water on the surface to the permanently frigid waters below. By withdrawing water from that pipe and using it as the cold side of any heat reaction, much more energy can be extracted from the process than could be delivered without it.

But what about those extremophile lifeforms down there at the vent? This has got to be ecologically disruptive!


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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



  • John N Tricia Martinez

    I have invented a similar concept. I’m not a scientist but I’m sure my concept has potential. My concept is based on Boyles law. A venturi would be floated over volcanic vents to channel the gasses into a hydro-electric generator.

  • kenneth_john

    Sure, the inventor of the neon light actually built an ocean thermal power system in 1928, but this is the 21st century. We couldn’t possibly have the technical capability to do that today?

  • aligatorhardt

    In the first page illustration, the inlet cone does seem to be above the ocean floor. It seems that bottom dwellers may not be dislodged, if there is space between the inlet and the floor. Considering the present state of decline of the ocean due to pollution of all kinds, the amount of pollution displaced might well be an improvement in water quality over time, even though the local floor inhabitants of these few utilized sites, would be damaged. As long as there are undisturbed vents, these life forms would not be impacted in a way that would threaten the species as a whole. It is more important to reduce the pollution from oil and the acidification from CO2 absorption, than to save a small area of life on the floor. It would not make economic sense to ignore the value of the actual fluids for extraction, with apparently limited impact.

  • Ksgnordquist

    Surface
    geothermal power plants are not cheap to make or upkeep. They are the second
    most expensive source of power just behind nuclear energy. It is unimaginable trying
    to make the same plant but airtight and under water. Although it is an inexhaustible
    resource that is readily available at any time it is an extremely expensive
    investment. We have the technology to build a rig to harvest this energy but
    sense the price outweighs the practicality it will happen far in the future if
    it happens at all. A possible cheaper design for this that could be practical
    for harvesting of the energy and minerals of these vents is to have an oil rig type
    platform above the water surface and then have a coil that transfer the heat up
    to the platform and harvest the energy form that heat. The amount of energy
    that we could receive from the vents is amazing. The amount of energy is almost
    twice the amount of giga watts a minute as even the most efficient coal burning
    power plant. One of the only snags is that these vents are only formed on mid ocean
    ridges so most of them are very far out in the ocean. Under water cables of would
    have to be run across the ocean floor for a great distant to reach certain
    countries.  Mining the materials such
    iron is a whole different story that technology is far in the future. We have
    no way of breaking the materials loose and no way of bringing them to the
    surface it’s too far down. Even though there is a practical design for a plant
    that could harvest the energy I am still against it, the amount of cons
    outweigh the pros            

  • Keep the good work on this blog.
    Thank you, webmaster.

  • Tom Lakosh

    You’d be lucky to get 20% turbine efficiency at that temp with noncondesible gases and the platform cost alone for what is now >40 MW plant would be cost prohibitive. You’d have to have ~200 closely spaced vents/pipes to pay for the platform much less the long distance transmission via HVDC.

  • Tom Lakosh

    You’d be lucky to get 20% turbine efficiency at that temp with noncondesible gases and the platform cost alone for what is now >40 MW plant would be cost prohibitive. You’d have to have ~200 closely spaced vents/pipes to pay for the platform much less the long distance transmission via HVDC.

  • Tom, you said:

    PS- the pressure problem I was talking about was at the sea floor surface and in the vent fracture system below. If you try to cap the vent to utilize it’s pressure for a heat exchanger or flow in the pipe to the surface it will cause a backpressure in the fracture system below the vent forcing the pressurized hot fluid out other fissures and away from the vent you capped.

    That’s not correct. Right now in nature, the vents are exiting at 3 or more m/s into an environment that’s 3700 psi. I would have to have a pressure far greater than that within the pipe to cause your scenario to happen, and the pressure in the pipe will actually be quite a bit less than that because of the far lower density of the hot water.

  • Tom, you said:

    PS- the pressure problem I was talking about was at the sea floor surface and in the vent fracture system below. If you try to cap the vent to utilize it’s pressure for a heat exchanger or flow in the pipe to the surface it will cause a backpressure in the fracture system below the vent forcing the pressurized hot fluid out other fissures and away from the vent you capped.

    That’s not correct. Right now in nature, the vents are exiting at 3 or more m/s into an environment that’s 3700 psi. I would have to have a pressure far greater than that within the pipe to cause your scenario to happen, and the pressure in the pipe will actually be quite a bit less than that because of the far lower density of the hot water.

  • Tom, you again raise interesting arguments. All I can offer in response is the result of computer modeling.

    Assumptions:

    Seawater Specific Gravity 1.03

    2,500 m depth

    3740 psi (258 bar) ambient pressure

    350o C vent temp

    Surface vent temp 340o C

    Perfect insulation

    12.13″ (31 cm) ID pipe diameter

    50% efficiency of steam turbine

    Ocean temp at bottom 2o C

    Surface ambient 15o C

    Platform 30m above water line

    Findings:

    83 MW energy producible

    Energy density (83 MW/area of 31 cm pipe) roughly 1 MW/10 cm2 pipe area, or about 3.3×10^6 more intense than solar radiation

    >100m/sec (218 mph or 360 kph) steam velocity at surface

    30 KT/day steam (25,000m3)

    Useful surface temp 340o C

    Useful surface pressure 70 bar (1015 psi)

    25,000 tons/day delivered to surface

    25-35 kg solid/ton

    25,000 tons x 25-35kg solids/ton = 625,000 kg- 875,000 kg solids per day

  • Tom, you again raise interesting arguments. All I can offer in response is the result of computer modeling.

    Assumptions:

    Seawater Specific Gravity 1.03

    2,500 m depth

    3740 psi (258 bar) ambient pressure

    350o C vent temp

    Surface vent temp 340o C

    Perfect insulation

    12.13″ (31 cm) ID pipe diameter

    50% efficiency of steam turbine

    Ocean temp at bottom 2o C

    Surface ambient 15o C

    Platform 30m above water line

    Findings:

    83 MW energy producible

    Energy density (83 MW/area of 31 cm pipe) roughly 1 MW/10 cm2 pipe area, or about 3.3×10^6 more intense than solar radiation

    >100m/sec (218 mph or 360 kph) steam velocity at surface

    30 KT/day steam (25,000m3)

    Useful surface temp 340o C

    Useful surface pressure 70 bar (1015 psi)

    25,000 tons/day delivered to surface

    25-35 kg solid/ton

    25,000 tons x 25-35kg solids/ton = 625,000 kg- 875,000 kg solids per day

  • Responding to “name”, I really do wish this system were perfect but of course it is not. Nothing is. However, I truly am convinced that it has far less environmental impact than anything else.

    I do have a design in mind that might mitigate even more the impact of the system. It would be a modification of the cap over the vent which would allow a small amount of the hydrothermal fluid, perhaps 10%, to escape sideways while the bulk would be carried up the pipe.

    That small amount might be enough to allow the vent communities to survive while also allowing exploitation of the fluid.

    Ian, your concerns are certainly valid. One thing you should keep in mind is that the journey from ocean floor to surface at a 3m/sec velocity takes about 13 minutes. That is not very much time for heat to escape. In fact, the computer model only assumed a 10 degree C temperature loss from vent to surface. Because of that there will be little deposition on the surfaces, but one good material would be ceramic.

    Corrosion is definitely an issue, as is the acidic fluid (roughly as acidic as vinegar), but it will be possible to borrow heavily from the geothermal industry that is dealing with these issues now.

    The lifespan of the vents is an issue as well, but we’re still talking several decades as a minimum. That should be enough to recover all costs by far, and it would only require moving a short distance to the new vents that spring up to replace old ones.

    Your observation about the submarine cables is good, and in fact I have a second patent on a wholly new method of electrical power transmission that doesn’t use copper at all. The driving force behind it was the obvious need for a better, cheaper way to carry the power longer distances.

    There are several possible ways of dealing with the chemical content, but one way is to return what isn’t needed to the bottom of the ocean where it originated. As long as strict controls are in place and the only products returned are those that started there, I don’t see it as pollution.

  • Responding to “name”, I really do wish this system were perfect but of course it is not. Nothing is. However, I truly am convinced that it has far less environmental impact than anything else.

    I do have a design in mind that might mitigate even more the impact of the system. It would be a modification of the cap over the vent which would allow a small amount of the hydrothermal fluid, perhaps 10%, to escape sideways while the bulk would be carried up the pipe.

    That small amount might be enough to allow the vent communities to survive while also allowing exploitation of the fluid.

    Ian, your concerns are certainly valid. One thing you should keep in mind is that the journey from ocean floor to surface at a 3m/sec velocity takes about 13 minutes. That is not very much time for heat to escape. In fact, the computer model only assumed a 10 degree C temperature loss from vent to surface. Because of that there will be little deposition on the surfaces, but one good material would be ceramic.

    Corrosion is definitely an issue, as is the acidic fluid (roughly as acidic as vinegar), but it will be possible to borrow heavily from the geothermal industry that is dealing with these issues now.

    The lifespan of the vents is an issue as well, but we’re still talking several decades as a minimum. That should be enough to recover all costs by far, and it would only require moving a short distance to the new vents that spring up to replace old ones.

    Your observation about the submarine cables is good, and in fact I have a second patent on a wholly new method of electrical power transmission that doesn’t use copper at all. The driving force behind it was the obvious need for a better, cheaper way to carry the power longer distances.

    There are several possible ways of dealing with the chemical content, but one way is to return what isn’t needed to the bottom of the ocean where it originated. As long as strict controls are in place and the only products returned are those that started there, I don’t see it as pollution.

  • Susan Kraemer

    How great to see all you engineers applying your brainpower to making this exciting new form of renewable energy workable in the real world.

    And the arcane language is so readable; “I don’t see the floaty-ness being an issue.”

    Thanks for the terrific comments, really educational.

  • Susan Kraemer

    How great to see all you engineers applying your brainpower to making this exciting new form of renewable energy workable in the real world.

    And the arcane language is so readable; “I don’t see the floaty-ness being an issue.”

    Thanks for the terrific comments, really educational.

  • Tom Lakosh

    PS- the pressure problem I was talking about was at the sea floor surface and in the vent fracture system below. If you try to cap the vent to utilize it’s pressure for a heat exchanger or flow in the pipe to the surface it will cause a backpressure in the fracture system below the vent forcing the pressurized hot fluid out other fissures and away from the vent you capped.

  • Tom Lakosh

    PS- the pressure problem I was talking about was at the sea floor surface and in the vent fracture system below. If you try to cap the vent to utilize it’s pressure for a heat exchanger or flow in the pipe to the surface it will cause a backpressure in the fracture system below the vent forcing the pressurized hot fluid out other fissures and away from the vent you capped.

  • Tom Lakosh

    Bruce- You’ve recognized a definite heat and mineral resource that requires lots of refinement to get any bites from investors that are anticipating large fossil fuel price hikes. The fact that the hot water will rise in ambient cold water doesn’t necessarily mean it will maintain high flow rates in the insulated pipe to the surface without pumping. The same mineral chimneys that form at the vents will form in the pipe as the pressure and temperature drop in the mile+ to the surface so you’d have to reglarly pig the pipe. Standard geothermal flash plants have the same problem of removing scale and non-compressible gases too so the more you build out the working plant components the sooner it has a chance of going commercial.

    It’s also necessary to add up all of the parasitic loads and costs so you can determine if there is enough resource sites of sufficient scale to sustain a manufacturer. Transmission to a load center alone is typically such a large cost that a resource of a GW+ is minimally necessary to amortize lengthy subsea transmission and at least a dozen such sites relatively close, (<200 nm?), to load centers are needed to amortize the development of the initial plant design.

  • Tom Lakosh

    Bruce- You’ve recognized a definite heat and mineral resource that requires lots of refinement to get any bites from investors that are anticipating large fossil fuel price hikes. The fact that the hot water will rise in ambient cold water doesn’t necessarily mean it will maintain high flow rates in the insulated pipe to the surface without pumping. The same mineral chimneys that form at the vents will form in the pipe as the pressure and temperature drop in the mile+ to the surface so you’d have to reglarly pig the pipe. Standard geothermal flash plants have the same problem of removing scale and non-compressible gases too so the more you build out the working plant components the sooner it has a chance of going commercial.

    It’s also necessary to add up all of the parasitic loads and costs so you can determine if there is enough resource sites of sufficient scale to sustain a manufacturer. Transmission to a load center alone is typically such a large cost that a resource of a GW+ is minimally necessary to amortize lengthy subsea transmission and at least a dozen such sites relatively close, (<200 nm?), to load centers are needed to amortize the development of the initial plant design.

  • What a wonderfully imaginative idea !

    Thinking it through I have a few engineering snags though, mainly with the open system version.

    The first is fouling. The vent benthos is happy living next to these temperatures and only its only real restriction is having a firm base to attach to in order to grow at less depth. By piping the fluid you would be providing that substrate on the inside of the pipe. The pipe might not get fouled at the vent but it almost certainly would higher in the system as temperatures drop. There could be an equilibrium point where the temps haven’t dropped sufficiently low to allow organisms to grow but you can still generate power from the thermal disequilibrium. The problem there is that you then have to limit the temperature drop in the circuit. It could be done, possibly, but you’d need to know the environmental tolerance of every potential organism that could enter the open pipe.

    The second is corrosion. The fluids concerned are very rich in hydrogen sulphide and so are very corrosive to most metals, especially at high temperatures. It is this mechanism that allows them to leach metals out of the rock and concentrate them into the fluid flow. The materials that you need would have to be corrosion resistant at extremely high temperatures. Thats not to say that it couldn’t be done, just that standard stainless steels might not be up to the job and cost would go up significantly if the riser had to be made of tungsten or titanium. You may have already factored that into your cost estimate, so I apologise if you have.

    The third is location of supply vs location of demand. There’s a real disparity there unless super conducting cables can be made cost effective over the thousand km range. Again, that’s not out of sight, but it is a hurdle.

    The fourth is what to do with the fluids at surface. Anyone who has dealt with acid mine drainage knows more about the geochemistry than I do, but there is a big geochemical disequilibrium to overcome. That might actually pay for its self if you can tame some friendly bacteria to eat and excrete the metals contained in the fluid, but we’re not doing it right now.

    The final one is jurisdiction vs economics. You point out that the vents have limited and very unpredictable life spans. This would, in effect, mean that the majority of the device would need to be movable from site to site in order that it is not made redundant. In that it wouldn’t be dissimilar from a floating oil production platform, so I don’t see the floaty-ness being an issue. The issue here is how does an investor make a return in anything but energy terms. Each move costs an amount to undertake with no guarantee that a return will be made and when a return is made there is no way to predict how long it will be made for.

    And I think that the last one is the killer. You can predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy how long a nuclear plant will last, or a coal mine, or a solar cell, or a wind turbine. We don’t have the tools to predict when or where these vents occur, or how long they will last. Until we can do that the economics will get in the way.

    But ! Its a great idea and I applaud you for coming up with it. I wish I could come up with something as innovative. Engineering-wise I think its do-able with time. How the economics play out is an exogenous factor, so it deserves to be researched fully.

  • What a wonderfully imaginative idea !

    Thinking it through I have a few engineering snags though, mainly with the open system version.

    The first is fouling. The vent benthos is happy living next to these temperatures and only its only real restriction is having a firm base to attach to in order to grow at less depth. By piping the fluid you would be providing that substrate on the inside of the pipe. The pipe might not get fouled at the vent but it almost certainly would higher in the system as temperatures drop. There could be an equilibrium point where the temps haven’t dropped sufficiently low to allow organisms to grow but you can still generate power from the thermal disequilibrium. The problem there is that you then have to limit the temperature drop in the circuit. It could be done, possibly, but you’d need to know the environmental tolerance of every potential organism that could enter the open pipe.

    The second is corrosion. The fluids concerned are very rich in hydrogen sulphide and so are very corrosive to most metals, especially at high temperatures. It is this mechanism that allows them to leach metals out of the rock and concentrate them into the fluid flow. The materials that you need would have to be corrosion resistant at extremely high temperatures. Thats not to say that it couldn’t be done, just that standard stainless steels might not be up to the job and cost would go up significantly if the riser had to be made of tungsten or titanium. You may have already factored that into your cost estimate, so I apologise if you have.

    The third is location of supply vs location of demand. There’s a real disparity there unless super conducting cables can be made cost effective over the thousand km range. Again, that’s not out of sight, but it is a hurdle.

    The fourth is what to do with the fluids at surface. Anyone who has dealt with acid mine drainage knows more about the geochemistry than I do, but there is a big geochemical disequilibrium to overcome. That might actually pay for its self if you can tame some friendly bacteria to eat and excrete the metals contained in the fluid, but we’re not doing it right now.

    The final one is jurisdiction vs economics. You point out that the vents have limited and very unpredictable life spans. This would, in effect, mean that the majority of the device would need to be movable from site to site in order that it is not made redundant. In that it wouldn’t be dissimilar from a floating oil production platform, so I don’t see the floaty-ness being an issue. The issue here is how does an investor make a return in anything but energy terms. Each move costs an amount to undertake with no guarantee that a return will be made and when a return is made there is no way to predict how long it will be made for.

    And I think that the last one is the killer. You can predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy how long a nuclear plant will last, or a coal mine, or a solar cell, or a wind turbine. We don’t have the tools to predict when or where these vents occur, or how long they will last. Until we can do that the economics will get in the way.

    But ! Its a great idea and I applaud you for coming up with it. I wish I could come up with something as innovative. Engineering-wise I think its do-able with time. How the economics play out is an exogenous factor, so it deserves to be researched fully.

  • Susan Kraemer

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to compare the level of change here to Gutenberg’s massive paradigm shift.

    At the very least, this would be an entirely new form of renewable energy. Now, there’s wind power, solar power, solarthermal, geothermal, and hydrothermal,

  • Susan Kraemer

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to compare the level of change here to Gutenberg’s massive paradigm shift.

    At the very least, this would be an entirely new form of renewable energy. Now, there’s wind power, solar power, solarthermal, geothermal, and hydrothermal,

  • name

    Bruce’s point about the actual impact of the system vs virtually everything else that is available is a good one.

  • name

    Bruce’s point about the actual impact of the system vs virtually everything else that is available is a good one.

  • That is exactly my point. There is now something previously untouched for human beings to utilize. Hydrothermal energy is, in fact, the first totally new source of power since the dawn of the nuclear age.

  • That is exactly my point. There is now something previously untouched for human beings to utilize. Hydrothermal energy is, in fact, the first totally new source of power since the dawn of the nuclear age.

  • Susan- No, I have not applied to the DOE. The reason is that I am not interested in starting a company and trying to build the system.

    It’s ludicrous in my view to do so. I would have to get a location and hire an engineering staff, purchase tons of equipment that would be needed to do testing, and all of that and so much more makes no sense to me.

    It is far more logical to license the system to major engineering concerns that already have the locations, staff, and equipment in place. With one email a team of engineers could be dedicated to their new project tomorrow.

    Also, I am a scientist/engineer type, not a CEO type. I simply am not cut out to run a huge operation like this. DOE funding would only help if I wanted to start a business from the ground up, and I don’t.

    For that reason I continue to seek licensees. I have many companies that I am in deep discussions with, but so far none has decided to move forward.

    Tom- Thanks for the comments.

    There is no doubt at all in my mind that it will work. The basic physics involved demand that it must work, in fact. I am containing superheated, high velocity water within an insulated structure where it can neither cool nor mix with the ambient seawater. Very frankly, what else can it do but rise?

    All the rest of your comments are valid questions/concerns, but they all relate to either engineering or financing. Not one of them is disqualifying the inevitable physical success of the system.

    One of your comments was regarding the enormous pressure at that depth and the type of pipe required.

    Actually, the pressure is one of the least important design considerations, because the pipe will have water inside it as well as outside it. There will actually be only a slight pressure differential at the bottom, since the fluid on the inside is far less dense than that on the outside, but it will not be on the order of the actual ambient pressure of depth. As the fluid rises I actually anticipate greater pressure inside the pipe than outside, since it will be flahing to steam at higher levels.

    Your comment about this being orders of magnitude more expensive than conventional geothermal plants is probably true, but they generate orders of magnitude more electricity, constantly and far more efficiently because of the far hotter water.

    I expect that the first system will cost between $3 and $4 billion dollars for a plant of about the same output as an average nuke, around 2 GW. The Peace River nuclear plant in Alberta, Canada, is 2.2 GW and projected to cost $6.2 billion. http://energyjustice.net/pipermail/nukenet_energyjustice.net/2007-May/002013.html This is far more economical than nuclear, and there are no waste or other issues.

    I don’t mean in any way to disagree with you. There are major engineering challenges ahead, but that’s what engineers are paid for. They solve problems, and among the problems they will be addressing in force will be some of those you mentioned.

    This is what I call a Gutenberg moment. Before Gutenberg, the written word was the exclusive province of the wealthy, but he saw a way to mass-produce it. Others thought of improvements like moveable type, or using a drum instead of a flat plate for faster operation. Others down the road figured out how to use that drum in a copier or a fax machine, and still others figured out how to send words on the internet.

    It all stems from Gutenberg…every last bit of it, and his brilliant observation that words could be mechanically transferred to paper.

    I’m not so vain as to directly compare myself to him, but I am saying that before the Marshall Hydrothermal Recovery System, hydrothermal vents were a curiosity. It is because of this system that they are now practical energy sources. I have provided the first vehicle that allows them to be utilized.

    My design is the minimum needed to get the energy to the surface. I expect that there will be hundreds of patents filed by others as the inexorable drive to perfect the system produces quantum improvements.

    The point is that we have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is by bringing the fluid to the surface where human beings can deal with it instead of trying to work at the bottom of the sea.

  • Susan- No, I have not applied to the DOE. The reason is that I am not interested in starting a company and trying to build the system.

    It’s ludicrous in my view to do so. I would have to get a location and hire an engineering staff, purchase tons of equipment that would be needed to do testing, and all of that and so much more makes no sense to me.

    It is far more logical to license the system to major engineering concerns that already have the locations, staff, and equipment in place. With one email a team of engineers could be dedicated to their new project tomorrow.

    Also, I am a scientist/engineer type, not a CEO type. I simply am not cut out to run a huge operation like this. DOE funding would only help if I wanted to start a business from the ground up, and I don’t.

    For that reason I continue to seek licensees. I have many companies that I am in deep discussions with, but so far none has decided to move forward.

    Tom- Thanks for the comments.

    There is no doubt at all in my mind that it will work. The basic physics involved demand that it must work, in fact. I am containing superheated, high velocity water within an insulated structure where it can neither cool nor mix with the ambient seawater. Very frankly, what else can it do but rise?

    All the rest of your comments are valid questions/concerns, but they all relate to either engineering or financing. Not one of them is disqualifying the inevitable physical success of the system.

    One of your comments was regarding the enormous pressure at that depth and the type of pipe required.

    Actually, the pressure is one of the least important design considerations, because the pipe will have water inside it as well as outside it. There will actually be only a slight pressure differential at the bottom, since the fluid on the inside is far less dense than that on the outside, but it will not be on the order of the actual ambient pressure of depth. As the fluid rises I actually anticipate greater pressure inside the pipe than outside, since it will be flahing to steam at higher levels.

    Your comment about this being orders of magnitude more expensive than conventional geothermal plants is probably true, but they generate orders of magnitude more electricity, constantly and far more efficiently because of the far hotter water.

    I expect that the first system will cost between $3 and $4 billion dollars for a plant of about the same output as an average nuke, around 2 GW. The Peace River nuclear plant in Alberta, Canada, is 2.2 GW and projected to cost $6.2 billion. http://energyjustice.net/pipermail/nukenet_energyjustice.net/2007-May/002013.html This is far more economical than nuclear, and there are no waste or other issues.

    I don’t mean in any way to disagree with you. There are major engineering challenges ahead, but that’s what engineers are paid for. They solve problems, and among the problems they will be addressing in force will be some of those you mentioned.

    This is what I call a Gutenberg moment. Before Gutenberg, the written word was the exclusive province of the wealthy, but he saw a way to mass-produce it. Others thought of improvements like moveable type, or using a drum instead of a flat plate for faster operation. Others down the road figured out how to use that drum in a copier or a fax machine, and still others figured out how to send words on the internet.

    It all stems from Gutenberg…every last bit of it, and his brilliant observation that words could be mechanically transferred to paper.

    I’m not so vain as to directly compare myself to him, but I am saying that before the Marshall Hydrothermal Recovery System, hydrothermal vents were a curiosity. It is because of this system that they are now practical energy sources. I have provided the first vehicle that allows them to be utilized.

    My design is the minimum needed to get the energy to the surface. I expect that there will be hundreds of patents filed by others as the inexorable drive to perfect the system produces quantum improvements.

    The point is that we have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is by bringing the fluid to the surface where human beings can deal with it instead of trying to work at the bottom of the sea.

  • Tom Lakosh

    It’s an interesting concept that might actually work if you could automate the process and submerge it to the sea floor over the vent(s) but the thick pressure hull needed at most vent locations would likely be cost-prohibitive and piping to multiple vents would be orders of magnitude more expensive than any land based geothermal plant.

    Raising the hot vent fluids to the surface will otherwise cause all kinds of problems. The depressurization in the pipe will free all sorts of non-condensable gases that would have to be vented before the water is flashed for the generator. Beyond the difficulty of venting these gases while maintaining fluid heat is the fact that these gases are GHGs so there goes the carbon neutral rating. The depressurization occurring in the pipe will also cool the fluid and precipitate the dissolved solids you wish to harvest. The precipitants will likely collect on the pipe, choking it off, and otherwise impede flow by creating a counter flow of dense precipitants. This can only be counteracted by maintaining the high sea floor pressure in the pipe and therefore requiring the fluid to be pumped with high parasitic energy cost.

    Even the closed loop system would be very difficult to deploy in that a huge heat source would be needed to justify construction/maintaining/positioning the surface ship and deploying/maintaining/powering a pumped heat exchanger at extreme depth would also be cost prohibitive. Any attempt to utilize the vent pressure to act as the heat exchanger pump will cause the vent to migrate to other fissures. The diagram showing a broad vent for insertion of a heat exchanger neglects the fact that cold sea water would mix and cool such a broad vent.

  • Tom Lakosh

    It’s an interesting concept that might actually work if you could automate the process and submerge it to the sea floor over the vent(s) but the thick pressure hull needed at most vent locations would likely be cost-prohibitive and piping to multiple vents would be orders of magnitude more expensive than any land based geothermal plant.

    Raising the hot vent fluids to the surface will otherwise cause all kinds of problems. The depressurization in the pipe will free all sorts of non-condensable gases that would have to be vented before the water is flashed for the generator. Beyond the difficulty of venting these gases while maintaining fluid heat is the fact that these gases are GHGs so there goes the carbon neutral rating. The depressurization occurring in the pipe will also cool the fluid and precipitate the dissolved solids you wish to harvest. The precipitants will likely collect on the pipe, choking it off, and otherwise impede flow by creating a counter flow of dense precipitants. This can only be counteracted by maintaining the high sea floor pressure in the pipe and therefore requiring the fluid to be pumped with high parasitic energy cost.

    Even the closed loop system would be very difficult to deploy in that a huge heat source would be needed to justify construction/maintaining/positioning the surface ship and deploying/maintaining/powering a pumped heat exchanger at extreme depth would also be cost prohibitive. Any attempt to utilize the vent pressure to act as the heat exchanger pump will cause the vent to migrate to other fissures. The diagram showing a broad vent for insertion of a heat exchanger neglects the fact that cold sea water would mix and cool such a broad vent.

  • Susan Kraemer

    Bruce, meh, no sweat.

    I’m curious though. Have you applied to the DOE for any funding to try out a pilot project?

  • Susan Kraemer

    Bruce, meh, no sweat.

    I’m curious though. Have you applied to the DOE for any funding to try out a pilot project?

  • Since these comments are moderated before posting, I just noticed that I misspelled Ms. Kraemer’s name. Can you please correct it before publication and then delete this comment?

    Thanks.

  • Since these comments are moderated before posting, I just noticed that I misspelled Ms. Kraemer’s name. Can you please correct it before publication and then delete this comment?

    Thanks.

  • Bob

    This is a great idea. I still don’t know how much it would cost. And how much the maintenance and pay back would be.

    It all makes no difference if the costs per KW are not competitive.

    I love this idea and the link to the Marshall Hydrothermal Website is fantastic.

    But no one talks about cost.

  • Bob

    This is a great idea. I still don’t know how much it would cost. And how much the maintenance and pay back would be.

    It all makes no difference if the costs per KW are not competitive.

    I love this idea and the link to the Marshall Hydrothermal Website is fantastic.

    But no one talks about cost.

  • I am the inventor of the system, and of course I have a Google alert set to notify me if anyone writes about it. That was how I found this posting.

    I thank Ms Kramer for bringing it to the attention of her readers, but my main reason for writing was to discuss the energy content of the vents, and also to more fully address a question she posed.

    Hydrothermal vents are nature’s closest approximation to a nuclear reaction. Their energy is different from all other renewable sources in two ways. One, it is extremely dense, meaning a huge amount of heat energy is highly concentrated in a very small area, making them ideal for recovery. Contrast that with the huge tracts of land needed to gather enough sun or wind to make a difference.

    The second major difference is their constancy. The driving force behind the vents’ existence is nothng more than the weight of the water above, which is constantly forcing seawater down into cracks and fissures in the crust, allowing it to become superheated by the magma and then returned as a hydrothermal vent. The vents operate 14/7/365.

    When you combine these two attributes, it is easy to see how whole cities or regions could be powered from one vent complex. Computer modeling predicts an astonishing 1 MW of producible power per 10 cm2 of pipe area. That makes multi-gigawatt plants far larger than the largest nuclear plants entirely feasible.

    The question she asked that I’d like to address was, “But what about those extremophile lifeforms down there at the vent? This has got to be ecologically disruptive!”

    I’d like to state for the record that I personally have a very strong environmental conscience, and I considered its impact before ever filing the patent. I am convinced that this is the most environmentally-friendly energy source ever harnessed.

    First is the bad news. Very honestly, if a vent is capped and the supply of heat and nutrients to the surrounding community is cut off, it will die. As Ms. Kramer said, there is no way to sugar coat that reality.

    I would hope a practical method could be developed to use a ROV submersible to move samples of different life forms to other nearby vents that are not utilized, but is still not a sure thing.

    For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the community is unavoidably and regrettably destroyed and try to examine the consequences of this worst-case scenario.

    It must be understood that all hydrothermal vents are temporary in nature, lasting from a few decades in the East Pacific Rise to as long as 50,000 years on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. At some point every single vent that exists today will close as a result of natural volcanic activity and every organism that depends on it for its sustenance will die, regardless of any human intervention. It is the way of nature.

    Scientists from Rugters University witnessed the death and subsequent rebirth of hydrothermal vents off the coast of Mexico. In 1991, during a dive researching the vents, they found themselves in the middle of a volcanic eruption which forever sealed those specific vents.

    According to Science Daily (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010824081441.htm), “A blanket of fresh lava killed the sea life the researchers hoped to study. Many of the creatures, such as giant tube worms, clams and fish, were instantly incinerated by lava.”

    The fascinating part is that scientists returned to the same location year after year to look at the aftermath of this natural occurrence, and the above link shows that there was significant regrowth and rebirth of new communities, including totally new species, within nine years.

    One must keep the incredible scale of the world’s longest geographical feature, the 40,000 mile (65 k km) mid-ocean ridge system when trying to evaluate any potential ill-effects. Even with maximum utilization of hydrothermal resources worldwide, only a very few of them are close enough to land to ever be even considered for energy production, and fewer still would prove themselves to be ideal. My personal estimate is no more than 3% of the world’s resources would ever be tapped.

    Of course that means 97% of all the vents would always be pristine no matter how many systems were built.

    One must also consider that society demands more and more energy, and it will come from somewhere. It is therefore fair to compare the environmental impact that utilizing hydrothermal vents would have vis-a-vis the impact that would come from generating the same amount of energy from any other source.

    The most logical comparison is to nuclear energy because it is truly hydrothermal’s only rival in terms of density. There is no dangerous reactor, no massive containment structure, no radioactive fuel, no long-term waste storage issues that persist even after the plant is decommissioned, and no need for all of the environmental damage from uranium mining and processing.

    Comparing to coal would require comparing to many plants, each with their attendant CO2 emissions, and the costs and environmental damage associated with coal mining and transportation.

    While I wish this system were perfect, it is not. Nothing is. There is always some impact from everything humans do, and this is no exception.

    I am still convinced that this is far more friendly than any other manner of generating a comparable amount of power.

    If you want more information, it can be found at http://www.marshallsystem.com.

  • I am the inventor of the system, and of course I have a Google alert set to notify me if anyone writes about it. That was how I found this posting.

    I thank Ms Kramer for bringing it to the attention of her readers, but my main reason for writing was to discuss the energy content of the vents, and also to more fully address a question she posed.

    Hydrothermal vents are nature’s closest approximation to a nuclear reaction. Their energy is different from all other renewable sources in two ways. One, it is extremely dense, meaning a huge amount of heat energy is highly concentrated in a very small area, making them ideal for recovery. Contrast that with the huge tracts of land needed to gather enough sun or wind to make a difference.

    The second major difference is their constancy. The driving force behind the vents’ existence is nothng more than the weight of the water above, which is constantly forcing seawater down into cracks and fissures in the crust, allowing it to become superheated by the magma and then returned as a hydrothermal vent. The vents operate 14/7/365.

    When you combine these two attributes, it is easy to see how whole cities or regions could be powered from one vent complex. Computer modeling predicts an astonishing 1 MW of producible power per 10 cm2 of pipe area. That makes multi-gigawatt plants far larger than the largest nuclear plants entirely feasible.

    The question she asked that I’d like to address was, “But what about those extremophile lifeforms down there at the vent? This has got to be ecologically disruptive!”

    I’d like to state for the record that I personally have a very strong environmental conscience, and I considered its impact before ever filing the patent. I am convinced that this is the most environmentally-friendly energy source ever harnessed.

    First is the bad news. Very honestly, if a vent is capped and the supply of heat and nutrients to the surrounding community is cut off, it will die. As Ms. Kramer said, there is no way to sugar coat that reality.

    I would hope a practical method could be developed to use a ROV submersible to move samples of different life forms to other nearby vents that are not utilized, but is still not a sure thing.

    For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the community is unavoidably and regrettably destroyed and try to examine the consequences of this worst-case scenario.

    It must be understood that all hydrothermal vents are temporary in nature, lasting from a few decades in the East Pacific Rise to as long as 50,000 years on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. At some point every single vent that exists today will close as a result of natural volcanic activity and every organism that depends on it for its sustenance will die, regardless of any human intervention. It is the way of nature.

    Scientists from Rugters University witnessed the death and subsequent rebirth of hydrothermal vents off the coast of Mexico. In 1991, during a dive researching the vents, they found themselves in the middle of a volcanic eruption which forever sealed those specific vents.

    According to Science Daily (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010824081441.htm), “A blanket of fresh lava killed the sea life the researchers hoped to study. Many of the creatures, such as giant tube worms, clams and fish, were instantly incinerated by lava.”

    The fascinating part is that scientists returned to the same location year after year to look at the aftermath of this natural occurrence, and the above link shows that there was significant regrowth and rebirth of new communities, including totally new species, within nine years.

    One must keep the incredible scale of the world’s longest geographical feature, the 40,000 mile (65 k km) mid-ocean ridge system when trying to evaluate any potential ill-effects. Even with maximum utilization of hydrothermal resources worldwide, only a very few of them are close enough to land to ever be even considered for energy production, and fewer still would prove themselves to be ideal. My personal estimate is no more than 3% of the world’s resources would ever be tapped.

    Of course that means 97% of all the vents would always be pristine no matter how many systems were built.

    One must also consider that society demands more and more energy, and it will come from somewhere. It is therefore fair to compare the environmental impact that utilizing hydrothermal vents would have vis-a-vis the impact that would come from generating the same amount of energy from any other source.

    The most logical comparison is to nuclear energy because it is truly hydrothermal’s only rival in terms of density. There is no dangerous reactor, no massive containment structure, no radioactive fuel, no long-term waste storage issues that persist even after the plant is decommissioned, and no need for all of the environmental damage from uranium mining and processing.

    Comparing to coal would require comparing to many plants, each with their attendant CO2 emissions, and the costs and environmental damage associated with coal mining and transportation.

    While I wish this system were perfect, it is not. Nothing is. There is always some impact from everything humans do, and this is no exception.

    I am still convinced that this is far more friendly than any other manner of generating a comparable amount of power.

    If you want more information, it can be found at http://www.marshallsystem.com.

    • Alex Von Auersperg

      I would not even consider an open looped system at this time as, the “relocation” of species from Vents would not work , not with todays tech and the inherit greed built into man is a factor that would almost always result in disater for ecosystem, A close looped system should be the one utlized if it can be done without harm. “Mining” for other materials is probably not a good idea right now and I would support a ban on open vent power. Take it from a man who knows what greed does. The intentions are good but do you really trust all the possible disasterous consequences an open system could create. We do not knowe enough about why vents are where they are and what a manmade closure of one would do. So far only nature has closed off a vent, I trust that any day over any man’s word.

      A good step in the Right direction, a closed loop system would still be the only version at this time however, that I would look to support with more research funding.

    • Kayvon Bumpus

      Wouldn’t this have a bad affect on the environment down there? There are vent crabs and stuff living there due to chemosynthesis. You should change it to recycle the water back down to keep the life-forms alive.

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