OTEC – Beorse Article

OTEC – BEORSE April 1980
Muhaima ADDENDUM, May, 1980

Bryn Beorse passed away April 29, 1980, still actively working to break through “superstition,” the false mental structures preventing progress in the realization of truth and sense. He had seen the Senate OTEC bill passed, expected the House bill to do so soon. He realized that his practical work to make OTEC and other benign energy systems known is being shared by other willing hands.

He gave us warnings and encouragement to be free from limited, programmed thinking. From two private letters:
…1,000 top scientists and engineers have more than 5 years experience with OTEC — the other 99,000 scientists and engineers do not and believe they can judge. This is the dangerous fallacy in our society. The technical community does not know technology — only their own particular bailiwick….
…. Please remember: There are no experts, – except those who have worked five years or more on any particular system. Then they become experts in this limited system, not in anything else…experts are limited to certain gadgets — in realizing that all the ‘expert’ bull has distorted our information circuit we can free ourselves from this bondage and we may survive.

Always evaluate who says what, and why he has to, and what eons of experience he has. Titles are elusive things. Science, technology, cybernetics, breaking free from old, stagnant, tired concepts into fluid creativity, humanity using its potentials, the ideal of lucid intelligence and cooperative enterprise — individuals together — these things were in him.

Beorse wrote, provocatively, in Every Willing Hand:
Life in this world with its responsibilities, wars, worries and jarring influences, was made by man, for man, for his spiritual awakening and evolution, and is not to be shunned by him who wants to know and grow  … Conditions, surroundings master us only as long as, we let them…. go out and fight…. think of nothing but living…. that your truer and deeper self may live and act – and move for the improvement of your community.

OTEC – BEORSE April 1980
By Janet Muhaima Startt

“The United states could have energy sufficiency in fifteen years, stop all oil imports, and become an exporter of low-cost benign energy technology to other nations. We have a technology which from its very inception would significantly reduce World tensions. The oceans contain all the power we could ever want – more than 100 times the power it is estimated we will need by the year 2000. For the last sixty years we have been working on the technology to harness this ocean-stored solar energy. The plans are refined now; we know how to build these plants. Some of our biggest companies are ready to do this at any time.”

Bryn Beorse, Research Associate at the University of California’s Sea Water Conversion Laboratory, was discussing OTEC – Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.

Bryn Beorse has worked with solar energy systems for more than thirty years. After participating in research and building of OTEC components with the French Energie des Mers in the late 1940’s, he returned to the United States in 1948 and introduced the system to Dean Everett D. Howe’s newly created Sea Water Conversion Laboratory, set up to study a wide variety of ocean-related technologies.

He is an engineer who calls himself a “drifter” since he toiled and fought in sixty-seven countries. He is the author of The Future is Ours, on economics, Every Willing Hand, on the employment problem, and other books. He has testified on solar energy at Department of Energy hearings and before Congressman Gerry Studds’ House Subcommittee on Oceanography. Unattached to DOE or other contracts, he moves freely to evaluate energy proposals and development plans.

At 83, Beorse has seen the promises, disappointments, and achievements of many energy systems. He believes it is imperative to initiate immediate construction of ecologically benign energy systems on both a large and small scale to insure the United States’ – and the world’s – survival.

Bryn Beorse sees the earth as a living, fragile, interdependent organism. Defining his function as “an agent for survival,” he is an exponent of the unity of life.

In San Francisco recently, he emphasized the importance of solar technologies, environmental protection, ocean energy development, and humanity’s growing awareness of the interconnected rhythm of all living things.
Q: Please explain OTEC and its value as an energy source.
A: Ocean thermal power is the largest solar energy system and the only one that requires no storage system. The storage is in the ocean itself. The OTEC plant operates on the temperature difference between the sun-heated ocean surface and cold water 500 metres down or more. The warm surface water is sucked into a boiler. In the “Open Cycle” version the water boils under vacuum. The steam runs a turbine driving generator.
On the down side of the turbine this steam is condensed by cold water pumped up from the deep.

In 1881 this began as an idea or theory in the mind of a French physicist Arsene d’Arsonval. In 1913 Americans, Germans, and Italians began to work. In 1926 French engineers George Claude and Paul Boucherot built a laboratory open cycle plant and had it inspected by the Academy of Sciences in Paris. They built a larger fully operating plant at Ougree in Belgium and finally one in Cuba. The French Energie des Mers built and installed a cold water pipeline as part of an open cycle plant in Abidjan, West Africa in the forties and fifties and carefully documented corrosion and biofouling during six months. In the 1950ls we at the University of California built three small demonstration plants. The American Association of Mechanical Engineers published both George Claude’s and the University’s accomplishments. The U.S. President didn’t come running asking us to solve the world’s energy need. A more flamboyant animal had his attention:
Nuclear Power.

It took the oil crunch in the 70’s for Americans generally to become interested. Nuclear power looked less glamorous. Our giant firms didn’t feel Japan, India, or even France should exhaust their sparse resources – and be ahead of us in a colossal coming technology.
As an East Indian general and businessman said, ‘It happens first in America.’ So our biggest companies and seven major universities jumped into the fray. Curiously though, some of these companies and universities, including the U.S. Energy Department, concentrated exclusively on the so-called ‘Closed Cycle’ OTEC plant, in which a ‘working fluid’ (ammonia or other refrigerant) boils rather than ocean water. This involves enormous heat exchangers and leakage of the working fluid may be a problem.
The reason may be unfamiliarity with the ‘flash evaporation’ of sea water and fear of the turbine with open cycle plants – something that highly surprises all turbine experts, for example in the Westinghouse Corporation, which, like George Claude, definitely favors the open cycle and considers it much cheaper and safer than the closed one. Both types are cheaper and faster to build than nuclear plants ~ and ecologically far superior.

The open cycle OTEC plants produce desalted water in addition to power. The Johns Hopkins University has designed OTEC GRAZING PLANTS that produce fuel or other industrial products that may be shipped to shore.

Further OTEC types are the Foam type or Mist type, in which a water wheel instead of a steam turbine is used, which decreases cost. On these types further research is required.

Research, planning, and building of small demonstration plants have encouraged business to now plan practical plants. Westinghouse (interested from the beginning), Lockheed, Bechtel, TRW, Sea Solar Power, General Electric, the Colorado School or Hines, Global Marine, and Stearns and Roger Hydronautics, and many major universities are now ready to build.

Q: Since OTEC is an ocean-based system, would only seacoasts benefit?
A: No. It will reach anywhere. For instance, Professor William E. Heronemus of the University of Massachusetts proposes to provide all power in New England by fuel brought from OTEC ships in the mid-Atlantic.

Q: How does one derive solid, liquid, or gaseous fuel from an OTEC plant?
A: The ocean has all the chemical components that are needed to produce a fuel – the ocean and the air together. The ocean contains, as you know, hydrogen and oxygen; the air contains nitrogen, oxygen and many other things. The OTEC produces power. This power can be used to combine these things into fuel such as ammonia or hydrogen.

Q: These fuels can then be ‘used to replace oil or coal?
A: Yes. Very little adjustment would be needed. We don’t need to reduce power consumption. We could of course; we should. But it is not necessary.

If an OTEC plant is built up to one hundred miles off shore electrical power can be transmitted to shore by current underwater cables. Or an OTEC plant could be built on shore, with the cold water pipeline laid out along the ocean floor to its right depth. ‘The power would be transmitted to users by a regular grid.

Dr. W. H. Avery and Dr. Gordon Dugger at Johns Hopkins University have designed floating OTEC plants in the mid-ocean, directed by satellites to areas of’ maximal thermal difference at each season. Fuel and other products produced by this plant would be transported to shore by ship.

Estimates for building OTEC plants vary from $500-$2500/kilowatt. Beyond building cost comes maintenance and repair, no fuel cost. Thus, the OTEC plants would be our cheapest energy source, and cost would decline.

The question of ‘biofouling’ has been studied for sixty years and is under control.
A grid would keep all but the smallest plankton from being drawn into the pipe.
No added burden is put on the environment.

Reluctance to invest meaningfully in working plants is due to lack of experience in the field. Bryn Beorse stated at a D.O.E. solar energy hearing in 1978:
“It is essential to understand that one who builds and tests a small plant gains an insight into its potential, its economics that no one else can share. So we need demonstration plants – not to convince the men of experience – but to convince the others.
These others, however, in government or elsewhere, often do not realize their handicap and write ponderous documents preventing progress. This is particularly unfortunate at this time….” Still, there is a readiness now to build OTEC plants through private industry.
Bryn is pleased that a number of senators and representatives have proposed bills for building OTEC and by 1986 have 10,000 (ten thousand) megawatts on line. Senate bill S-1830 was introduced on June 21, 1979 by Senator Matsunaga of Hawaii and Senators Jackson, Church, and Inouye among others. House bill H.R. 5796 was introduced on November 2, 1979 by Congressmen Gerry Studds, Fuqua, and others recommending
OTEC funding. H.R. 6154, introduced by Congressmen Studds, Murphy (of New York) and others on December 14, 1979, would establish procedures for location, construction, and operation of OTEC facilities.

OTEC is adaptable to its environment. If the temperature difference between surface and deeper ocean waters is not sufficient to sustain a power-producing plant, OTEC could still be used to produce desalted fresh water by plugging it into an outside power source. Power input would be approximately one-fourth of that required by the presently most economical plants.

The University of California developed just such plants for the Los Angeles/Malibu area, producing five million gallons of fresh water a day for home, industrial, or agricultural use. This type of OTEC could be built for La Jolla/San Diego.

One might ask why the Feather River project was built and the Peripheral Canal is proposed, while OTEC, which would give fresh water, not take it away from a place, is ignored. Only one state representative in Sacramento ever asked him about the plans, Beorse says; no one ever followed up on the information he gave. Information is still available in case they should ask.

Q: The government expresses interest in ‘synfuel’ – what about that as a partial replacement for imported oil?
A: So far, they plan to take it from coal or from tar sands or from shale – all of these will produce more pollution than we have now. And Roger Revelle and other sober scientists see a danger of damaging climatic changes. There are so many other renewable energy sources. Professor Melvin Calvin at the University of California at Berkeley, for example, has travelled the world and come back with information on growing plants that produce oil that could replace imported oil immediately. There is such a crowd of good ways to get energy without the deplorable situation we have now.

Q: Oil companies are interested in OTEC?
A: Yes. The oil companies have the money and the ability to build these things.
They are, after all, big units of democratic thinking people. A good friend of mine is an oil company geologist, for instance; he realizes that the oil companies should have diverted energy from totally oil to include other things. He wants to help humanity survive.

Q: Are Americans able to consider survival in terms of both long-range and immediate goals? It would take time to build these OTEC plants.
A: OTEC plants can be built in two years, and we have that time. If we don’t start now, we won’t survive. Some food problems and energy problems have to be solved in order for us to survive…it’s down to very primitive physical things. OTEC offers a solution to those problems.

The American people aren’t different from other people. People can think and do anything. And some people say, for instance, that all we think about how is ‘me’ – we have the ‘Me Decade.’ That’s nonsense. That’s not what all people think about. That’s what some people think about, and often the well-educated, unfortunately. But the majority of Americans don’t think that way at all. They want to work with others and
that’s why we still have a nation. If the nation were as the academics sometimes picture it, we would have died long ago. And, ‘Can the American people think like that?’ People can think any way, anytime, anything they want… and they do.

Q: Nuclear energy is considered an alternative to oil.
A: I think this nation is 52% against nuclear energy. And that is a great advance in thinking. And the honor there is mainly due to Dr. John W. Gofman  who was Associate Director of Livermore Laboratory for seven years, and is both a medical man and a physicist and has authored many nuclear-related inventions.
He’s the one man in the world who knows most about nuclear power. His latest book is Irrevy, which beautifully pictures the whole monstrosity we call nuclear power.

Q: Where would one build OTECs to serve the United States?
A: There is a small demonstration plant in Hawaii now – built for further research only.
OTEC plants might be built in the Gulf of Mexico or around Florida.
But as Barry Commoner and Amory Lovins have pointed out, in California we wouldn’t even need OTEC plants. We could  still do it by other means… wind, solar, plants that grow oil, and so on. There are ten or twelve alternatives. If you want, you can build OTECs and transfer that energy; if you don’t want to do that you can do other things.
There’s a great amount of work done outside government. There is hope for survival.

Senators and Congressmen can provide people with information on the Senate and House OTEC legislation. For further information on OTEC people can write to

Sea Water Conversion Laboratory, Richmond Field Station, 47th and Hoffman Blvd., Richmond, California, 94804. Alternative Directions in Energy and Economics (A.D.E.E.), 502 Presidio, San Francisco, California is one of several non-profit organizations distributing information about benign energy systems, including OTEC.
OTEC is one of the simplest energy technologies. The temperature difference between the heat-storing surface ocean water and colder Ocean depths is utilized to run a steam turbine engine, which in turn runs a generator producing electrical power.

The steam turbine engine works by forcing steam to push a turbine wheel. The working fluid is boiled; the steam under pressure turns the wheel, then is condensed to liquid again on the down side of the turbine. All steam turbine engines work this way.

In the “OPEN cycle” OTEC, sea water is the working fluid, made to boil by lowering air pressure in the boiler. Just as water boils at a lower temperature at higher altitudes because the air pressure is lower, so warm sea water will boil on its own, without heating, in the OTEC boiler if air pressure is sufficiently reduced. This steam then turns the turbine. On the down side of the turbine cold water pumped up from deeper ocean layers condenses the steam, which is desalted water.

In the “CLOSED cycle” plant, ammonia or other volatile fluid with a low boiling point is used. Sea water transfers its heat through heat exchangers to the liquid, causing it to boil.
Cold sea water from the ocean currents 500 metres down or more condenses this steam as in the open cycle plant.

A temperature difference of 20° C. between surface and deeper layer waters is required for a power-producing OTEC plant. One built for desalination purposes only could be
built where the temperature difference is 10°-15° C., running on energy supplied by an outside power source.

Like the tip of an iceberg, only the top of the offshore OTEC plant would be visible.The work would be done under the ocean surface.

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