Estuaries may be good for more than harboring wildlife and creating beautiful scenery; they could also supply power to the grid, according to researchers at the Dutch Center for Sustainable Water Technology, the University of Groningen and the University of Twente. Dutch researchers discovered that electricity can be harvested from estuaries using fuel cell-like devices that have no moving parts (so they won’t break or hurt wildlife) and can add power to the grid quickly — as fast as freshwater from estuaries is dumped into salt water in the sea.
The electricity harvesting process, dubbed reverse electrodialysis, uses a membrane that separates freshwater from saltwater and collects the electric charge. There are already plans to test the technology, too — a 40 foot-long “sea container” harboring thousands of feet of membrane will be installed in a Dutch estuary in 2012. It will generate 200 kilowatts of electricity. The power will be expensive at first (the membranes are expensive), but as demand for membrane eclipses supply, prices should drop. And years down the road, estuary-generated power may become as common as popular forms of renewable energy like solar and wind power.