Curaçao Airport Looks at Using Ocean Water for Power

Curaçao Airport has been looking at using ocean water for power and in less than two years, Curaçao may be using its ocean as a power plant. The island in the southern Caribbean could use seawater to generate and save power, taking a major step toward innovation in clean energy. Santiago Ortega Arango explains:

A Dutch company called Bluerise B.V. and the company that owns Curaçao’s airport – Curaçao Airport Holding N.V. – are exploring building a small 100 kilowatt marine power plant that will use the use the temperature of the seawater as a power source. In the tropics, the sun heats the ocean surface and keeps it warm all year long. But at a depth of one kilometre, sunlight can’t reach and warm colder waters, circulated from the Arctic.

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion – OTEC – works by deploying a pipeline in the ocean to pump cold, deep water to the surface and take advantage of the difference in its temperature with the warm surface water. Cold and warm waters are used in a process to condense and evaporate ammonia, causing it to move inside a closed-pipe circuit. Evaporated ammonia powers a turbine that generates electricity, and then is condensed to continue the cycle.

The downside of the process is that the difference in temperatures is not very large, so the efficiency of the process – and thus the power production – is low when compared to conventional power plants. The bright side is that the energy resource is as abundant as the ocean itself.

[. . .] If the process is sufficiently cost effective – a huge question at this point – offshore OTEC plants could eventually provide energy for coastal communities located on mainland areas, and any country with access to warm, tropical ocean waters, he said. The plants could also use their electricity to create fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia, which would later be transported to shore.

[. . .] Around 60 percent of the airport’s energy consumption goes to air-conditioning, and the power demand is almost constant, Kloppenburg said. Utility costs in Curaçao are expensive because energy has to be imported – a problem shared by other islands. The price per kilowatt-hour of imported energy is around 45 cents, Kloppenburg said, which can be 10 times as much as the cost of power in mainland areas of the region. Bluerise proposed that the airport begin running its air-conditioning systems using cold seawater pumped from deep in the ocean – a change it claims could result in power savings of 90 percent. The airport gave the project the green light, financing preliminary and feasibility studies.

The seawater air conditioning component is crucial for making the OTEC cost-effective, project officials say. The fuel savings from using seawater to run the airport’s air conditioning system could over time help repay the cost of construction of the deep-sea pipeline, which could then be used for both air conditioning and the OTEC pilot plant. The aim is to have the pipeline – the most costly component of the system – in place and the OTEC plant working by 2014, project backers said.

[. . .] The Curaçao project potentially could be expanded beyond power and air conditioning. If they can find needed investment, Bluerise and the airport hope to develop an eco-park – an industrial complex for production and research – based on the use of leftover airport cold water. Potential activities at the eco-park might include desalination, cooling soils to allow planting of different crops, growing fish from temperate waters or growing algae for biofuels, Bluerise officials said.

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