A team of researchers from Stanford University recently announced that estuaries around the globe could provide 13% of the world’s energy needs. For those of you who skipped geography, an estuary is where a river meets the sea, and the team believes that these areas where fresh water and salt water converge could be tapped as a renewable energy goldmine. Whenever river water diffuses into salty seawater there is a slight rise in temperature – this energy could theoretically be captured and harnessed to create electricity.

entropy, osmosis, osmotic power, renewable energy, salt, seawater, Stanford UniversityPhoto © Sids1

The researchers are working on a system for generating energy from moving water that does not involve ecosystem-damaging hydroelectric dams. Instead, the process hinges upon the principle of entropy, wherein energy is created from the mixture of salt and fresh water.
Traditional systems utilize osmotic power, where salt water draws fresh water through a membrane, causing an increase in pressure. This pressure then turns a turbine to produce electricity — but the Stanford team is working on a new method.

As reported by the Royal Society of Chemists, the Stanford team has developed a system that uses a battery to draw energy through a crystal lattice made of manganese dioxide nanorods. This enables a large surface area to be packed into a small space, creating the potential to generate large amounts of energy.

The system would also enable salt to be gathered so it can be converted into molten salt, which we all know can be used in power plants, wastewater treatment, energy generation and hydrogen gas production.

Granted the system is still in its infancy and the 13% figure that is bandied around should be taken with a pinch of salt (sorry!), but it is an interesting idea.

+ Stanford University

Via Clean Technica

Lead photo by Wikimedia Commons