Sunday, 22 February 2015

Multiple Benefits Of Ocean Tunnels

By Sam Carana and Patrick McNulty

Comprehensive climate action will do more than just cutting emissions, it will also take further action, as pictured in the image below.

Comprehensive and effective action is discussed at the Climate Plan blog
Taking a broad perspective makes it easier for proposed projects to be assessed on their benefits in a multitude of areas.

Ocean tunnels can capture vast amounts of energy from ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream and the Kuroshio Current. These locations are close to areas with high energy demand, such as the North American East Coast and the coast of East Asia, which can reduce the need for long distance transmission lines.

Ocean tunnels provide clean energy continuously, i.e. 24 hours a day, all year long. This makes that they can satisfy demand for electricity both at peak and off-peak usage times.

  • Their ability to supply large amounts of electricity at times of peak demand will benefit the necessary transition from polluting to clean ways of generating electricity.
  • Their ability to also supply large amounts of electricity at off-peak usage times will help to reduce the price of electricity at such times, thus opening up opportunities for a number of activities that can take place at off-peak hours and that require large amounts of energy.

    Such activities include large-scale grinding of olivine rock and transport of the resulting olivine sand, and large-scale production of hydrogen through electrolysis to power transport (box right). Electrolysis can also create oxygen-enriched water that can improve the quality of waters that are oxygen-depleted.  
Hydrogen to power Shipping

Ocean tunnels can make electricity cheap at off-peak times. This will reduce the cost of recharging batteries of electric vehicles at night.

It will also reduce the cost of producing hydrogen at off-peak hours. To power ships crossing the oceans, hydrogen looks more cost-effective, as such ships cannot return to base for a nighly battery recharge. Such ships have plenty of cargo space to carry hydrogen, even when the hydrogen is not highly compressed. Some of the world's largest ports are close to strong ocean currents.

Ocean tunnels can generate electricity in two ways, i.e. by capturing the kinetic energy contained in the flow of ocean currents, and by means of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) using temperature differences between cooler deeper parts of the ocean and warmer surface waters to run a heat engine to produce energy. 

Besides generating energy, ocean tunnels can assist with further activities, which will increase the value of ocean tunnels in the fight against climate change. Such activities include the following:
  • By reaching deeper parts of the ocean, OTEC can pull up sunken nutrients and put them out at surface level to fertilize the waters there, while the colder water that is the output of OTEC will float down, taking along newly-grown plankton to the ocean depths before it can revert to CO2, as described in the earlier post Using the Oceans to Remove CO2 from the Atmosphere.
  • Ocean tunnels can be used to distribute olivine sand in the water. The force of the currents and the turbines will help the process of transforming olivine into bicarbonate. This can reduce carbon dioxide levels in the water by sequestering carbon, while also reducing ocean acidification. Olivine sand contains silicate and small amounts of iron, allowing diatoms to grow that will capture additional carbon dioxide, while also raising levels of free oxygen in the water. The latter will stimulate growth of microbes that break down methane in the water before it reaches the atmosphere. Further nutrients can be added, as also discussed in this earlier post
  • Ocean tunnels can also assist with albedo changes. Ocean tunnels can act as the infrastructure to create water microbubbles along their track. Increasing water albedo in this way can reduce solar energy absorption by as much as 100 W m − 2, potentially reducing equilibrium temperatures of standing water bodies by several Kelvins, as Russel Seitz wrote back in 2010. There may also be potential for ocean tunnels to be used to spray water vapor into the air with the aim of brightening clouds over areas where it counts most.
  • The turbines in tunnels will also reduce the flow of ocean currents somewhat, thus reducing the flow of warm water into the Arctic. Furthermore, tunnels can be shaped in ways to guide the flow of warm water away from the Arctic Ocean down a southwards course along the Canary Current along the coast of West Africa. thus diverting warm water that would otherwise end up in the Arctic Ocean. This could also reduce the chance of hurricanes hitting the east coast of North America, as Sandy did in 2012.  
The Gulf Stream, carrying warm water all the way into the Arctic Ocean


Multiple Benefits Of Ocean Tunnels
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