Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), a 150-year-old proposal hindered by economies of scale, converts the world’s oceans into a massive renewable solar battery. This is how Bitcoin can unlock the energy of the ocean for 1 billion people.
By harvesting the thermal energy of the oceans, Bitcoin has the capacity to generate between 2 and 4 terawatts of clean, steady, and year-round baseload electricity – enough to power one billion people.
It accomplishes this by blending warm tropical surface water with deep cold seawater in a traditional heat engine. Bitcoin’s unusual thirst for purchasing and consuming trapped energy from the prototypes and pilot plants that will be necessary to prove it works makes this basic idea suitable for scaling up to a global scale. OTEC may also be the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to mine Bitcoin because it uses nearly endless amounts of cold water to cool co-located ASIC chips.
The Conception Of OTEC
When French physicist Jacques Arsene d’Arsonval proposed retaining the thermal energy stored in the ocean in 1881, OTEC was born. He was motivated by Captain Nemo’s remark in Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas” that there is no scarcity of energy that his ship, the Nautilus, could potentially capture, such as “obtaining electricity through the diverging temperatures of different depths.”
D’Arsonval advocated that such divergent temperatures be used to operate a heat engine that transforms heat to mechanical energy. He imagined a factory with a Rankine cycle based on the work of William Rankine, a Scottish mechanical engineer who devised an idealized thermodynamic cycle in which mechanical work is taken from a fluid as it passes between a heat source and a heat sink in the mid-nineteenth century. OTEC can be carried out from the beach or from a distant oceanographic platform that is well out of view.
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Over one billion people live within 100 kilometers of a tropical coast, where the temperature difference between warm surface seawater and frigid deep seawater at one kilometer depth is 25 degrees Celsius. OTEC is ideal for this difference, or delta T. A working fluid like ammonia boils and evaporates at normal temperature. Ammonia condenses back into a liquid when the temperature in a condenser immersed in deep cold seawater is reduced. The Rankine cycle, which will run a turbine and generate electricity, is created when the temperatures diverge. The end result is clean, uninterrupted base load power that can supply free cooling for buildings, infrastructure, or mining equipment all year round. Pumping water to the surface is all that is required.
Other engineers would carry on d’Arsonval’s heritage, such as Ben J. Campbell, who prophesied in 1913 that the tropical oceans will prove to be an infinitely huge and limitless repository of potential energy capable of providing all the electricity required by future man. The first OTEC facility, however, would not be finished until 1930.
Georges Claude, a student of d’Arsonval — known as the “Edison of France” for his neon-light and industrial-gas breakthroughs — would eventually wind up betting and losing his wealth in his floundering OTEC plant in Matanzas Bay, Cuba, and a self-funded OTEC freighter to manufacture and sell ice to Rio de Janeiro residents. The projects collapsed due to logistical challenges, weather, blunders, and rising expenses.
To boost his plant’s earnings, Claude investigated collecting small gold granules from OTEC saltwater. He could never have anticipated that nearly a century later, oceanographers would be extracting a new type of digital gold from computers using seawater.
Ocean thermal energy was regarded particularly promising by Nikola Tesla, who offered improvements to Claude’s heat engine in order to enhance logistics and economics. Economies of scale would defeat the two engineers’ individual attempts to capture Earth’s abundant energy.
Investors were leery about OTEC after Claude’s misfortunes. Nuclear fission was discovered within a few years, and by 1944, eminent petroleum geologist Everette DeGolyer had reported to the US government that Middle Eastern countries were sitting on incalculable billions of barrels of oil. “The oil in this region is the greatest single prize in all history.” DeGolyer said in his report to the State Department. With that finding, OTEC was mostly forgotten for decades, and few nations were ready to devote significant resources to researching and expanding the new technology.
Energy Abundance And Bitcoin Flexible Load
Tropical regions that are well suited to large OTEC may have a lot of intermittent sun and wind, as well as a lot of curtailment. These regions, according to Harmon, would direct curtailment to their OTEC plants, where the overclocked and cooled Bitcoin miners could be adjusted to use the additional energy and lower the cost of large-scale OTEC.
This architecture would provide a region with inexpensive, clean, and consistent base load power, with variable load supported by Bitcoin mining earnings. OTEC can be used to power desalination plants to supply fresh drinking water for such places while also collecting raw minerals from seawater in a sustainable manner. More contentiously, it may for the first time make seabed mining of manganese nodules profitable – trillions of dollars worth of geodes holding economic concentrations of minerals.
Air conditioning demand is generally higher all year in tropical regions. This boosts energy costs, and the increasing demand for energy frequently necessitates the use of non-renewable energy sources. By delivering sea water air conditioning (SWAC) to surrounding buildings, OTEC can eliminate the demand for energy-intensive air cooling. OTEC’s cold 5°C water is pumped to a closed loop chilled water system via a heat exchanger. The loop is passed via a series of fan units that blow air over the chilled pipes to cool the residential spaces.
From Tradition To Modern Sustainability
OTEC extracts cold water from the deep ocean, which is rich in minerals and nutrients. Sea life on the ocean’s surface gradually degrades into debris, which is continually sliding into the ocean’s depths. The Pacific Ocean’s thermohaline circulation transports large amounts of debris, which increases the nutrient density. OTEC’s waste may be utilized not just to power and cool Bitcoin miners, but also to extract nutrients for agriculture and aquaculture.
Build, Test And Study
OTEC has potential environmental drawbacks, and one of the main purposes of Harmon and his team’s medium-scale test facility is to investigate those negative externalities. Because the plants can be noisy and have the potential to harm sea life, noise mitigation must be investigated. Antifouling substances, which are used to keep pipes from corroding, are another potential hazard. Pumping too much nutrient-dense water onto the surface without using it can lead to putrefaction. The solution is to discharge mixed water to a medium depth, where it will continue to cycle through the trash. This alters the trophic structure of the area surrounding the plant, which requires further investigation.
While OTEC’s nutrient-dense water can be utilized for agriculture and productive carbon sequestration on land, aquaculture is another possible purpose for the nutrient-dense water. Its “artificial upwelling” mimics natural upwellings, which are responsible for fostering and supporting the planet’s greatest marine ecosystems and densest populations of life. Abalone, trout, oysters, clams, and cold-water sea animals like lobster and salmon thrive in this nutrient-rich waters and can be cultivated in tropical areas. For tropical locales where collected seafood generally deteriorates quickly, this might eliminate the requirement for long-distance shipment and energy-intensive refrigeration. In an ironic twist, the technology that inspired Jules Verne’s fanciful story of seasteading may very well support permanent residences, research centers, and Bitcoin citadels in international waters.
Harmon and his colleagues will begin by retrofitting Makai’s 100-kW Kailua-Kona plant on the Big Island with S9 Bitcoin miners. The facility is too tiny to be profitable, but it will showcase OTEC’s integrated cooling technology. The team then plans to embark on a medium-scale demonstration using a containerized grazing platform.
Even with all of OTEC’s inventiveness and hope for an energy-rich future, one must be practical. With medium-scale 100 MW OTEC, there are still engineering problems to overcome. However, the challenges are not insurmountable when compared to what the offshore oil and gas industry has achieved. The problem right now is that the difficulties are preventing humanity from expanding the technology from 10 MW to 100 MW.
A 10 MW OTEC plant was too costly and the Innovation Valley of Death was too vast before Bitcoin. There are environmental issues, but none on the scale of those caused by the exploitation or combustion of fossil fuels. As part of the scaling process, a thorough investigation is required.
Nonetheless, in its long history of futuristic dreaming for a better future, OTEC has had more mistakes than accomplishments. The question is whether it will work. The good news is that we do not have to believe every claim made by oceanographers and engineers regarding OTEC, or any other energy technology for that matter. Bitcoin, on the other hand, serves as a test bed for scaling new forms of energy production. Bitcoin mining rigs and their public wallet addresses will show investors and the wider public whether test facilities can do the task they claim. Proof of work, in this context, is just another way of saying “prove it works.”
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