Natural phenom could serve global clean energy future

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A pilot power plant in Norway will be the first of its kind to generate clean energy by mixing seawater and fresh water. IDE Technologies is partnering with Europe's largest renewable energy company, Statkraft, to develop a 2 MW Osmotic Power Generation pilot plant in Sunndalsøra, Norway. The plant will be capable of operating in any type of weather, 24/7.

At the Osmotic power plant, fresh water and salt water are guided into separate chambers, divided by an artificial membrane. The salt molecules in the sea water pull the freshwater through the membrane, increasing the pressure on the sea water side. The pressure creates a significant waterfall to be utilized in a power generating turbine. This energy can be utilized for the generation of power through the natural phenomenon of osmosis -- the transport of water through a semi-permeable membrane.

Most of the plant will be based on existing technology used in desalination and other industries. However, IDE will design the energy recovery system, as well as the fresh water and seawater pretreatment.

A transition to renewable energy is one of the most important measures to combat climate change. Because osmotic power enables clean power production at any place where rivers and lakes meet the seashore, it represents the potential for renewable, zero carbon-dioxide footprint, seafront power plants worldwide.

The reach of osmotic power is huge with global potential of 1600 to 1700 TWh -- equal to China's total electricity consumption in 2002 -- but large commercial investments in renewable energy are needed and technological innovation is a crucial enabler for a low-carbon future. With these considerations, osmotic power could meet its clean energy potential by 2050.

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