Power from osmosis? New twist on water-generated electricity

Summary:Here's a new term for you to wrap your head around: "osmotic."If you, like me, have no idea what that term means even though it seems to be derived from the term "osmosis," I'll save you a trip to the dictionary: Merriam-Webster's take on the word describes it as the "entry movement of a solvent (as water) through a semipermeable membrane (as of a living cell) into a solution of higher solute concentration that tends to equalize the concentrations of solute on the two sides of the membrane.

Here's a new term for you to wrap your head around: "osmotic."

If you, like me, have no idea what that term means even though it seems to be derived from the term "osmosis," I'll save you a trip to the dictionary: Merriam-Webster's take on the word describes it as the "entry movement of a solvent (as water) through a semipermeable membrane (as of a living cell) into a solution of higher solute concentration that tends to equalize the concentrations of solute on the two sides of the membrane."

So, here's why I am bringing the term up today: There is a new report out from cleantech consulting and research firm Kachan & Co. that predicts so-called osmotic power -- which is generated in the salt to fresh water conversion process -- could provide thousands of terawatts of baseload electricity around the globe. The report specifically projects that osmotic power sources, which would typically be sited near deltas and estuaries, could create between 1,600 to 1,700 terawatt-hours per year of electricity by 2030. For perspective, that's about half of the total energy demand in Europe.

This approach isn't very commercially viable right now, though the link that osmotic power could have with water desalination projects could prove valuable as the world wakes up to very real freshwater supply problems. Other positive things on the side of osmotic power project: there are a lot of places that you could locate plants, and the supply is less intermittent than solar or windows.

In the press release about the report, Kachan managing partner Dallas Kachan says:

"Some vendors claim we're only a year or two from commercial plants, but that feels ambitious. Our report finds there are still technical, permitting and regulatory hurdles. Yet the promise of osmotic power is significant and an industry is beginning to emerge."

If you want to buy the "Osmotic Power: A Primer" report, you'll have to cough up $395, but definitely worth a read.

Topics: Telcos

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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