OTEC History

(OTEC means Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion)

Ocean Thermal Difference, the difference between surface and deeper layers, as a source of power, has been recognized for more than a century. In 1881 an American engineer, Campbell, two Italians, Dornig and Boggia and a French physicist, D’Arsonval proposed a closed cycle Ocean Thermal device. The warm surface water would heat and cause evaporation of a “working fluid” (alternative fluids were suggested) which would pass through a turbine, thereafter being condensed by cold water pumped up from deep layers and again fed into the evaporator. The first to build practical plants was a pupil of D’Arsonval, the French engineer George Claude, member of L’Academie des Sciences, of the French Society of Civil Engineers. He won the fiftieth anniversary medal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He chose the “open cycle system” in which the ocean surface water itself evaporates and drives the turbine,and rejected the “closed cycle”, of which he said in a talk to American engineers 22 October 1930(1):

“Manifestly, such a solution is burdened by a number of inconveniences, one of them being the extra equipment for and cost of the working fluid and another the necessity of transmitting enormous quantities of heat through the inevitably dirty walls of immense boilers… The sea water itself contains all that is needed for the direct utilization of such small temperature differences.”

Claude ran a small experimental device before fellow-members of l’Academie des Sciences in Paris, then built a larger plant at OUGREE in Belgium, which, in his words, “Made my virulent opponents hold their tongues.” His one-meter diameter turbine generated 60 Kilowatts at 5000 rounds per minute with a total ocean thermal difference of 20°C. This proved the thermodynamic viability. “It remained to be seen how the plant would function in the ocean, how pumping cold water from deeper layers would influence neighboring layers and whether foaming would drastically decrease efficiency or break the turbine.”

Claude moved his Belgian plant to Cuba. A two feet diameter pipeline would have been sufficient to supply his condenser,with the proper amount of water, but would have caused the cold water to be warmed before arriving at the condenser and would have incurred intolerable friction losses. A pipeline of two-meter diameter was built — and lost in a storm. A second pipeline was also lost. A third pipeline was built and successfully laid. The plant ran for eleven days, producing 22 KW on a turbine much too small for the other components of the plant, but Claude was operating on his own money and that of a few friends, and could not afford a new turbine. The basic function was nevertheless proven and, in the opinion of these resourceful enterprisers, should have been followed by prototype and commercial plants.

In 1931 a French Maritime company built a pilot plant for shipboard use at Le Havre, described by H. Brillie in GENIE CIVIL for 21 June 1931 (2). This plant, using ship engine waste water as warm water source and ocean surface water as cold water source produced fresh water with as little as 1-2 parts per million salt and a power expenditure of only a fraction of conventional plants, according to the report. Gossipers claim the plant was killed by people who wanted to sell more fuels to ships.

In 1941 the French Government became involved and in 1942 ENERGIE DES MERS was formed, a semi-official company for researching and building OTEC plants (3,4). In French laboratories and on a chosen site at Abidjan in West Africa research was conducted, for example on the effect on neighboring layers when huge amounts of cold water was removed by pumping. Only the closest layers were found to be involved. Mindful that Claude had lost two pipelines, the manufacturing and laying of the cold water pipeline were carefully planned and carried out. This pipeline was considered the only new and unproven component in the plant and therefore given major attention. The line was left in place for six months for study of corrosion/biofouling. The area between low and high tide was found particularly vulnerable. For current OTEC ships, with the cold water pipeline entirely under water, this would be irrelevant. In laboratories in Dakar and in France proper research was conducted on general evaporator and condenser problems, including air-and-gas removal from sea water under evaporation. An entire plant was designed but never built.

In 1947 and 1948 the undersigned studied the French work, returned to the States and became involved with the University of California and its newly established Sea Water Conversion Laboratory. In 1951 Professor Everett D. Howe, founder and first director of the Sea Water Conversion Laboratory, obtained State funds, later Federal funds, from the “Saline Water Office” that had been established when Dr. James Hofman of the National Bureau of Standards demonstrated in Congress two small thermal machines built in my presence on the pattern of the French.

The University of California built and tested three plants, all open cycle, since the University wanted desalination, primarily. In the open cycle, desalination is achieved with no additional cost. A laboratory plant was built and tested by Dr. Lev Akonjanoff. Its main feature was a two-quarts pyrex glass kettle. This vessel is kept in a stove at constant temperature, to avoid losses by condensation on the glass wall. Tests were made with a) batch distillation with constant temperature and pressure, b) batch distillation with constant temperature and varying pressure, e) flow-distillation with constant temperature and pressure, d) flow-distillation with constant temperature and varying pressure. This laboratory-sized plant was built and tested in the Hesse Hall of the Berkeley Campus. At the Sea Water Conversion Laboratory of the Richmond Field Station was simultaneously built the so-called ‘first low-temperature difference plant’ consistlng of an already available 4.5 foot-long and 30 inches diameter cylindrical evaporator plus condenser, pumps etc. It was scheduled to produce 2,000 gallons desalted water per day and no power. After this plant had been tested for a variety of possible conditions, our ‘second low temperature difference plant’ was designed and built. Funds had now been made available for suitable hardware. This plant was scheduled to produce 10,000 gallons per day desalted water plus as much power as our available General Electric turbine would seem willing to offer. This turbine had been used in an aircraft air conditioning unit. The evaporator had been supplied with three windows and inside lights, so that the flash evaporation procedure could be observed. The sea water was seen to explode in a myriad of drops the moment it entered the evaporator. The prior idea of drip-trays, over which water was supposed to flow in sheet-like formations, was proven invalid. This again may be one reason why our yields often were higher than formulas predicted.

Dr. Akobjanoff(7) and Mr. Beorse (9) conducted independent studies of evaporation rates related to then existing formulae. Yields in the University
plants varied from 2 to 189% of predicted values. Dr. Langmuir, co-author of the Langmuir-Knutsen formula, saw the reason for this in that essential factors had not been included in the formulae, during a discussion with Mr. Beorse in 1955.

Tables, showing yields of desalted water and power produced at the University plants, are available at the University and/or Sea Water Conversion Laboratory. One table, showing cost, estimated or confirmed, of various desalting methods, indicates that desalting cost for a Low Thermal Difference Plant is lower than for all other methods and lower than the then-goal for municipal water (85 dollars versus 125 dollar per acre foot) but higher than the irrigation goal (40 dollars). (5,6,7,8,9)

Commercial Design.

On the basis of this testing of three plants, the University designed a desalting plant for the canyon near La Jolla and the Scripps Oceanographic Institution. It was scheduled to produce five million gallons fresh water per day. A number of large private firms, located in California or with branch offices in California assisted in this design. Particularly helpful was the San Francisco Branch Office of the Westinghouse Corporation.

This plant would have no turbine. The total temperature difference in the winter was 16°F, not enough for power production but enough to desalt water at a lower cost than any then or later developed system, since this small thermal difference provided distillation under vacuum. Additional energy for pumping etc., would come (1955 prices) to 24 cents per 1000 gallons, while fuel-fired plants require from three to four times as much energy. With the addition of maintenance cost, total cost comes to 28 cents per 100 gallons, not including amortization and interest, which changes from site to site. A smaller plant would mean a greater relative cost for the cold water pipeline and for maintenance, so the total cost would be higher. Firm bids were obtained for all components, including two million dollars for manufacturing and laying the cold water pipeline. This one job was upped to three million in our estimate. We tried to be equally conservative for other components. The estimated cost of the entire plant was six million dollars. People not familiar with our research and estimate preferred a one and half billion dollar Feather River project — valid, in a sense, at least, while water supply in Northern California was ample. It isn’t any more. The subject plants may still be built, all over Southern California.

The University of California and Energie des Mers

Following Mr. Beorse’s study at Energie des Mers in France in the late Forties, the General Director of Energie des Mers, Andre Nizery, visited the University of California and gave a seminar at the Berkeley Campus in March 1954 (10). Andre Nizery was also deputy Director of the huge semipublic corporation “Electricite de France” which supplies the French with electricity and other forms of power. Professor Everett D. Howe of the University, along with David Jenkins, then-director of the Saline Water Office of the US Department of the Interior visited Energie des Mers in Paris and Abidjan. Mr. Beorse again visited Energíe des Mers in 1957,1959, 1963 and 1973, this last time on occasion of the passing of M. Christian Beau, who had been General Director of Energie des Mers after Andre Nizery’s death. M. Beau had also been head of France’s public works.

All personnel of Energie des Mers were convinced that they had the obvious solution to the world’s energy problem. Their research had confirmed their brightest hopes. The winds of politics in France favored nuclear energy.

Throughout the years until today the University of California continued specific research on heat transfer, heat exchangers, de-aeration, evaporator characteristics, preventing carry-over of water droplets into the steam flow, scaling, corrosion, biofouling. In June 1957 Professor E.D. Howe reported to ASME (11).

From 1960 Hilbert and James Anderson, a father-son engineering team, took up a serious study of a closed cycle plant and actually built a small sample. In the seventies, with the soaring oil prices, the National Science Foundation took up the matter, asked for studies,, and received voluminous reports, first from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, principal investigator Professor William E. Heronemus, a former Navy Captain who had been in charge of vast shipbuilding efforts. In rapid succession followed the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics
laboratory, the Carnegie-Mellon University, the Universities of Texas, Hawaii, New Orleans, Florida — and substantial industrial firms: Lockheed, Bechtel, TRW, and of course the Andersons’ Sea Solar Power, Hydronautics, Batelle, Allied Chemical Corporation — thousands upon thousands of pages proosing a multitude of types and all of them emphasizing the immediate readiness of this technology and the wholly benign ecological effects. Cost estimates vary from $700 and up per Kilowatt built and of course the fuel is free. If only two percent of the power available in the Ocean Thermal difference were utilized we would have many times as much energy as the world now needs.

Bryn Beorse, University of California 19 September 1977

(Note: footnotes for this document were not found at this time. However, they will be added later should another version of this be found that includes the footnotes.)

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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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