Letters From The Earth

Getting it right

By Calvin Frost, Contributing Editor | May 31, 2013

My comments in this issue are really a sequel to my last column. I know I irritated some readers, particularly Professors Susan Brantley and Anna Meyerdorff. Additionally, I’ve had any number of emails saying I’m all wet and don’t understand the economic benefits of using fossils. I had intended to return to my annual schedule. However, the furor has made me realize that I’m the pea under the mattress and I rather like that. Somebody is reading, maybe not liking, but they’re reading.

The issues of fracking and using natural resources reminded me of a conversation I had with my RA the other day. This very erudite person gave me several columns from The New Yorker written by Elizabeth Kolbert, the magazine’s environmental guru. I never said anything to my RA but wanted to offer a suggestion to Ms. Kolbert, much like my suggestion to Professors Brantley and Meyerdorff: read Lester Brown. Everything Ms. Kolbert writes and suggests about carbon tax was proposed years ago by Lester. His ideas are so simple. They take the chicken and the egg out of politics. First, and maybe this is me, not Lester, get rid of all lobbyists. Kick ‘em out of Washington. No more subsidies for coal, oil, and gas. After they are gone tax the producer for creating problems when they manufacture unfriendly products. How about lung cancer from cigarette smoke? Tax the cigarette industry! How about emphysema from secondary smoke and carbon monoxide? Tax the car & truck industry! How about waste? So in our industry, and I know you’ve heard this before, if a company manufactures pressure sensitive roll labelstock and waste is generated, the manufacturer is taxed. Unless...the manufacturer agrees to take back the waste or provide a solution to the generator. You see it is so simple. If the manufacturer uses an adhesive that is not, repeat, not compatible with paper or plastic recycling, they pay a tax, a carbon tax based on the amount of waste being generated. You can call this a carbon tax or, the latest phrase, you can call it “extended producer responsibility.” The key is that we’re all playing on an even playing field, without the influence of lobby groups. Life would be so simple. The fact is we don’t live in that world. Environmental issues are not solved by simple equitable resolutions. We live in a political environment. The lobby groups run the politicians and corporate America runs the lobby group and, guess what, corporate America, the shareholder (you and I) normally get what they want. Great, increased share value, greater profits, that’s the rule of the day. To be honest, sometimes they get it right which leads me to an incredible story that I believe supports my position on developing alternative energy instead of spending millions on fracking.

On April 13th, in Beijing, China, the Reignwood Group of Hong Kong and Lockheed Martin of the United States announced they would co-develop the first commercial Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) off the coast of southern China. Reignwood and Lockheed Martin are, at first glance, unlikely partners. Reignwood is in the resort business and Lockheed Martin is in security and aerospace. However, many of Reignwood’s resorts are in coastal and island locations where energy is extremely expensive and an extensive infrastructure is needed to carry it from the source to the resort. Lockheed Martin, on a closer look, is engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration, and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. Also, they’ve been involved with OTEC since the early 70s. After a more careful look, the partnership does make sense. In a nutshell, this technology is practical and eminently doable and ready to go. It combines well established refrigerator and turbine technology into a floating heat pump to generate energy. What’s more, no carbon footprint. Eat your hearts out, Professor Susan Brantley and Professor Anna Meyerdorff.

The concept for the partners is to develop a 10 megawatt facility off the coast of southern China. In the 70s Lockheed Martin helped build the world’s first successful floating OTEC system that generated renewable net power. In 1990 they were awarded a contract to develop a plant in Hawaii, though the project was cancelled. Now they have teamed up with Reignwood to build this facility that will fuel a resort.

Get rid of all lobbyists. Kick ‘em out of Washington. No more subsidies for coal, oil, and gas. After they are gone tax the producer for creating problems when they manufacture unfriendly products.

Darren Quick, who writes about technology and the environment for Gizmag, describes the situation:

“OTEC uses the natural difference in temperatures between the cool deep water and warm surface water to produce electricity. There are different cycle types of OTEC systems, but the prototype plant is likely to be a closed-cycle system. This sees warm surface seawater pumped through a heat exchange to vaporize a fluid with a low boiling point, such as ammonia. This expanding vapor is used to drive a turbine to generate electricity with cold seawater that is then used to condense the vapor so it can be recycled through the system.

Tropical regions are considered the only viable locations for OTEC plants due to the greater temperature differential between the shallow and deep water. Unlike wind and solar power, OTEC can produce electricity around the clock, 365 days a year, to supply base load power. OTEC plants also produce cold water as a by-product that can be used for air conditioning and refrigeration at locations near the plant. Despite such advantages, and even though demonstration plants were constructed as far back as the 1880s, there are still no large-scale commercial OTEC plants in operation. This is largely due to the costs associated with locating and maintaining the facility off shore and drawing the cold water from the ocean depths. But the time may finally be right.

With the shelving of the Hawaii OTEC pilot plant, the 10 MW prototype offshore plant will be the largest planned OTEC project to date. Like the Hawaii project, which was also to be a 10 MW facility, the China OTEC plant is designed to pave the way for higher capacity plants ranging from 10 to 100 MW. The plant is to be build off the coast of southern China to supply 100% of the power needed for a large-scale green resort community being developed by Reignwood Group. The new resort is planned as Reignwood’s first net-zero community, with the company also currently developing two large-scale low-carbon resorts and others planned for key locations in China.

Lockheed Martin and Reignwood will begin concept design of the sea-based prototype plant this year with construction due to start next year. Once it is up and running, the two companies plant to use the knowledge and experience gained over the course of the project to improve the design of additional commercial-scale plants.

The companies claim each 100 MW OTEC facility could produce the same amount of energy in a year as 1.3 million barrels of oil and decrease carbon emissions by half a million tons. Assuming oil trading at near US $100 a barrel, they estimate fuel savings from one plant could exceed $130 million a year.”

This is one example of technology that is so much kinder to our global community. There are others and as I see things here on Earth, we need to use them.

Another Letter from the Earth.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.
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