Lockheed Pursues Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion

After securing a grant for $1 million from the U.S. government this spring to examine Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) resources, the security and technology company Lockheed Martin is starting to choose partners to manufacture equipment for a couple large projects.

OTEC is a process that generates electricity by exploiting the temperature difference between warm surface water and deep cold water. The temperature difference is utilized to drive a Rankine cycle operating with a low boiling point working fluid. Warm surface sea water passes through a heat exchanger, vaporizing the fluid that drives a turbine generator, producing electricity.

Janicki Industries says it will make the cold-water pipes for Lockheed’s OTEC plant. Lockheed actually built a 50-kilowatt OTEC plant back in the 70’s, when companies started experimenting with the technology. Eventually, low fossil energy prices and a lack of investment in R&D made the technology uncompetitive.

Companies like Lockheed are hoping to re-kindle investment and tap the enormous potential of the temperature differences in the ocean. The Navy awarded Lockheed $8 million last year to develop a 10-megawatt OTEC power plant off the coast of Hawaii. No word on when the company may have a plant operating. But given the slow progress of the industry and the challenging technical and economic challenges, it may take a while to get it up and running.

Below is a video on a couple projects Lockheed hopes to develops off the coast of Hawaii.