Bryn Beorse: 3 Decades of Pioneering OTEC

From The Solar Ocean Energy Liason, September, 1980

Bryn Beorse Passes Away at 84 After Three Decades of Pioneering OTEC Work
By Richard A. Meyer

Bryn Beorse passed away on April 29th, 1980 at the age of 84, following a stroke. His last 30 years were persistently dedicated to OTEC, with his daily behind-the-scenes efforts consistently bearing fruit. As he was never a glory-seeker, his efforts over many decades toward seeing OTEC implemented are generally unknown and unheralded.
I was notified of Bryn’s death while on vacation, and I felt it strongly. Since I became involved in OTEC over four years ago, I had come to know Bryn quite well. We met on several occasions and spoke on the telephone at least twice a month, sharing the many ups and downs of OTEC during that time.
Knowing of Bryn’s commitment and long-term involvement in OTEC, I suggested the Bryn Beorse Annual Achievement Award, and hoped it could be initiated at the June Ocean Energy Conference, only to find that there was not enough time to prepare for its selection and proper presentation. However DOE’s Dr. Bennett Miller announced at the Conference banquet that the Award would be presented the following year.
The details of Bryn’s story appear elsewhere in this issue, where you will see that he led an exciting, adventurous, creative and rewarding life.
But I can add to the review of his contributions that he devoted the bulk of the last 30 years of his life to OTEC.
Nowhere do I have a greater collection of papers than in Bryn’s correspondence, for he left no stone unturned in his efforts to see TEC implemented. He wrote everyone who could possibly help, sending me copies of his letters. He wrote Senators, Congressmen, James Schlesinger, magazine editors, Exxon’s Chairman, television commentators, current and past Presidents and Presidential candidates, Cabinet members, bank presidents, heads of foreign governments …the list would fill the pages of an international “Who’s Who”.
And not only did he get answers, but Bryn held dialogues with these men: meaningful dialogues that often culminated in personal meetings, television appearances, and feature newspaper and magazine articles. It makes exciting reading.
More important, Bryn did more to “get the word out” on OTEC than anyone else I know of. For example his initial appearance on Arlene Francis’s talk show resulted in more letters than they had received following anyone else’s appearance, and Bryn was asked back for two more visits.
The last time I spoke with Bryn we discussed the rapid movement of OTEC legislation through Congress. It was a few weeks before he died, and I asked him if he was working hard. “No, not really,” he told me, “I believe OTEC is really, finally on its way now.”
Bryn had incredible energy and stamina, even thought he was in his mid-eighties. After so many years of fighting for OTEC, I believe he felt his job was done. OTEC was certainly well on its way: The word was out, the momentum was there. Now he could rest.

About Bryn Beorse: His History
Bryn Beorse was still working as a research associate at the Seawater conversion Laboratory of the University of California in Richmond at the time of his death at the age of 84.
Bryn was born in Oslo, Norway on April 26th, 1896. He graduated from the Royal Norwegian Technical University with a master’s degree in engineering, then began a period of world travel in which he visited and lived in 67 countries, working in several of these and learning 12 languages.
He served in both World Wars, with the Coastal Defense forces in Norway in WWI and with the British Air Forces in WWII, attaining the rank of captain and serving with MI6, the Air Force Intelligence Agency.
After WWII he went to France to work on engineering studies, during which he was introduced to Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion while working for the French company Energie des Mers on the design and construction of the Abidjan (Africa) OTEC plant in 1947. He brought this system to the United States in 1948.
After returning to the US, Bryn settled in Berkeley, where he did pioneering work in seawater conversion and ocean thermal power at the Seawater Conversion Laboratory of the University of California, where three laboratory OTEC models were built.
He left there around 1960 to work for the Mcdonnell Douglas Corporation, then went to work for the Boeing Aircraft Corporation in Seattle. During his subsequent year-long visit to Switzerland he worked for Hispano-Suiza, then returned to the US in 1962 to work for the Navy in Keyport, Washington.
In 1964 Bryn headed a United Nations mission to Tunisia to determine the feasibility of setting up seawater-conversion plants there. Taking advantage of a 15-year right-to-work rule in the Civil Service, he avoided mandatory retirement from the Navy until December 1976, when he became one of the oldest civil servants in the US at the age of 81. Returning to the University of California at Berkeley, he again took up his major goal: the development of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.
Bryn was the author of nine books, primarily on various aspects of energy and economics, but also including armchair philosophy and knowledge gleaned from his many years of travel. His latest books are Fairy Tales are True and Every Willing Hand, available from HU Press, 242 East 14th St., New York City. Others include Essays on Full Employment, The Future is Ours, and The State of Almost Happiness.
Bryn is survived by his wife, Evelyn, a son, a daughter, and two sisters. At his request his remains were donated to the University of California at San Francisco for scientific use.

About Bryn Beorse: The Man

Anecdotes by and about Bryn Beorse abound; an attempt at brevity is somehow a disservice to him.
Just a month before his death, Bryn cancelled the “Exxon Caper”, a plan in which, by buying minimal stock, he could have a voice at Exxon’s annual stockholders’ (section missing)
….cave, only to find it already inhabited. Upon hearing a sound from within, Bryn reached into the darkness and grabbed a handful of bristly fur, resulting in another sound he said he’s never forget. “A Himalayan bear told me to get out of there and go back to work on OTEC,” he said, “so here I am back in the world.”

I told Bryn years ago that I wanted to do a biography on him, but he declined, saying he was only an “uncute lad”. Yet I later learned that in 1943 he had planned, along with several German generals and the British MI5 and Mi6 (the equivalent of the American CIA) to kidnap Hitler and “place him in a nice British aple orchard where he could spend the rest of his life munching apples and complaining to newshawks.” I also learned of Bryn’s being attacked by a Dayak chief in Borneo who wanted his blond head (si”since it counted for nine dark ones”). “A Story about me? Are you kidding? Not worth the ink.”
While Bryn encouraged everyone, he challenged many. Not out of antagonism, but to spur them on to do their best and to live up to the standards he had set for himself.
In recent years, Bryn worked with several foreign governments on an OTEC desalting process which he claimed “could operate on only a 9 degrees C total thermal difference and with only a fourth of the energy input of any other distillation desalting project.
Bryn had several talks on OTEC with Prime Minister Nehru in India in 1959, and continued his correspondence with Indian energy advisors as recently as later 1979. similarly with the National Research Centre of Cairo on utilizing the hot brines of the Red Sea through OTEC technology.
At a meeting of the Solar Energy Research Institute in December 1979 Bryn found out during a talk with Eric Midboe of Gibbs and Cox that he had taught Eric’s father in Norway many many years before.
Having just re-read Bryn’s correspondence – incredible in both its quantity and its quality – with dozens of people in high places, world-renowned thinkers, and the life, I had hoped to excerpt highlights. But it is impossible to do so effectively except in a book. Suffice it to say that when one reviews Bryn’s letters to DOE, Congressmen, the OTA, bank and university presidents and others, one is forced to acknowledge the tremendous influence he had over the years – right up to his death – in advancing OTEC to where it is today.
All behind the scenes, quietly, persistently, and always with good humor.
His life has been an inspiration to all who knew him.
Thank you, Bryn!

(Click here for a random post from somewhere else in this blog.)


1 Comment

Filed under 1975-1980, 1980, Energy, OTEC

One response to “Bryn Beorse: 3 Decades of Pioneering OTEC

  1. Jack Longmate

    I knew Bryn Beorse, or Shamcher, as I was growing up in Silverdale, Washington and attending Central Kitsap High School; he was working at the navy base at Keyport. I knew his daughter Daphne and son Bryn, but I got to know him after he spoke to our honors history class, commenting about the state of affairs in our country during the first years of Nixon.

    For the idealistic young intellectual that I was, Mr. Beorse was my inspiration and mentor. On virtually a weekly basis, I would stop in unannounced in the evening and chat with him in his living room, at times about thermal energy, at times about World War II, but mainly about economics.

    He was an advocate of a system of full employment for the U.S.; pointing out how he’d never met a person who didn’t want to work, he developed a plan (which I believe I read) that entailed the creation of a survey (or what might be called a database today) to catalogue the specialized skills of all workers. Then, whenever a downturn would occur in one sector of the economy would occur, there would be a coordinated means to channel those displaced workers into another industry.

    While I wasn’t able to attend, Bryn arranged for a Yale professor of economics, John H.G. Pierson, who had written on the subject of full employment, to give a lecture at the University of Washington in Seattle. I remember being quite proud when I was able to arrange a chance for him to speak at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University in Bellingham during my freshman year there.

    I remember Mr. Beorse had ideas about money and how most didn’t understand its fundamental nature.

    As the staunch anti-Vietnam war teenager that I was, I also remember not being comfortable with his position that, at times, we wait too long before getting into war. At the time, I don’t think I appreciated the groupthink that prevented Europe from taking action during Hitler’s rise to prepare for the inevitable.

    I also remember him attacking those who would claim that we can’t lift ourselves up by our bootstraps. His rebuttal was that we could indeed pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when we’ve pulled ourselves down by our hat brims.

    Mr. Bryn Beorse had a fabulous, active mind. I loved the conversations that we had and the inspiration that I drew from them.

    Jack Longmate
    Poulsbo, WA (

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