New Research Posits Ocean Currents As Reliable Source Of Clean Energy

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New research has proposed a design for a submerged marine turbine that could harness ocean currents as a potential renewable energy resource.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAResearchers from the Quantum Wave Microscopy Unit at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have published their proposition in the journal Renewable EnergyThe researchers specifically proposed a submerged marine turbine that could harness the energy of the Kuroshio Current, a north-flowing ocean current on the west side of the North Pacific Ocean, up against Japan’s own east coast. The Kuroshio Current is similar to the more well-known Gulf Stream current that runs around the top side of the Atlantic Ocean, and could provide consistent electricity much like fossil fuels have done.

The newly proposed design could see a submerged marine turbine operate in the middle layer of the Kuroshio Current, 100 metres below the surface, where the waters of the current flow steadily and relatively calmly, even during the violent storms and typhoons that make their home in the region.

OIST-1The design itself is more a hybrid of a kite and a wind turbine, and comprises a float, a counterweight, a nacelle to house the electricity generating components, and three blades. The turbine would be anchored to the seabed, while its position in the current would turn the blades, generating near-constant electricity. As the researchers note, though ocean currents are relatively slow — averaging only 1-1.5 m/s — water is over 800 times more dense than air, meaning that even slow ocean currents are comparable to strong winds — and with the added benefit of being constant in both direction and speed.

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10 thoughts on “New Research Posits Ocean Currents As Reliable Source Of Clean Energy

  • They’ve been working on wave power forever. Tell me when they solve the seaweed problem.

    • This is a hundred meters below the surface. That isn’t using wave power. They may not have a lot of seaweed that deep in that location.

      • I’m still betting it gets gummed up by living things of one sort or another.

        The sea is kind of… crowded with life. Not like the air.

        • The Japanese are world leaders in protecting land infrastructure from corrosion. It is probable that they will develop coatings (ceramics?) to ensure reliable long term operation of the machinery.

      • Seaweed needs something to anchor itself to. Ships protect themselves with antifouling paint – nasty stuff, but it works.

    • It’s nothing like wave power, which is problematic because the action takes place at the ocean surface, a very hostile environment for machinery. It is technically very similar to tidal stream, which also uses completely submerged turbines. There are several successful working pilots, one in Northern Ireland, and large-scale projects for the Alderney Race.

  • Does the low flow rate of the current mean large swept areas are required?

    Edit – Just read the article again and saw the bit about density.

  • Unlike with wind turbines, animal mortality is likely to be a considerable concern for ocean current turbines.

    Ocean currents are used by vast numbers of marine animals for easy migration. Unlike birds, which have been shown to be intelligent and adaptable enough to learn to avoid wind turbines), most fish species lack the intelligence and perception required to learn to avoid obstacles.

    Also, wind farms can be built far away from important bird migration routes. Ocean current turbines, by their very definition, will have to be built right in the middle of fish migration routes.

    • Tidal turbines have shown themselves to not be hazards to marine life. There’s no reason to think that turbines places in current flows would be any different.

    • Not being a fish expert I still wonder if fish will not avoid these slow moving open blades. They surely avoid my costly lures despite studies showing these said lures are “fish catching magnets.” Additionally the Japanese diet is highly high in fish right so why would they destroy their own larders? Lou Gage

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