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DOE grants $1 million for ocean energy research

Lockheed Martin to determine if ocean thermal energy conversion and seawater-based air conditioning is viable for widespread use.

A Lockheed Martin map with DOE data shows areas with the greatest difference between surface temperature and the temperature at 1,000 meters deep. Areas in purple designate coastlines that may be most feasible as energy sources. Lockheed Martin/US Department of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy has given two grants totaling $1 million to Lockheed Martin to determine the feasibility of tapping into the ocean's hot and cold spots to save energy.

Instead of looking at how to harness wave and tidal power, as the Seadog and Oysterprojects have been doing, the grants require Lockheed Martin's scientists and engineers to determine if they could take advantage of the ocean's varying temperatures.

The first part of the grant is to develop software and tools for determining which thermal areas of the ocean have the greatest potential for being tapped as renewable-energy sources. Specifically, it will look at Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technology, exploiting the large temperature difference between the ocean's solar-warmed layer and a cold sink to generate electricity.

But that first grant is not restricted to OTEC for the purpose of generating electricity. The tool will also be tuned to find oceanic cold sinks near coastlines that could be tapped as a source for air conditioner coolant.

The method, which is already being testing in Honolulu, Hawaii, is called SWAC (seawater air conditioning), district cooling, or DSW (deep seawater) cooling. Cold, deep seawater is pumped to a cooling station on shore and used as air conditioning coolant. The water is then redistributed into the ocean after circulating through the system.

The second grant seems to be going to the number crunchers.

It's for Lockheed Martin to determine (based on the information they gather about the ocean's hot and cold spots) the scalability, cost, performance, and ultimate potential for large-scale use and commercialization of SWAC and OTEC technology.