Norway now holds the world’s first power plant to create technology that uses osmosis to generate electricity. Sited in a bay in south-east Norway, the plant opened on the 25th of November.
Statkraft is the company behind this, and is the third largest energy producer in the Nordic Region. FYI, they are a state owned electricity company. Their first plant prototype has been unveiled, and it can is still undergoing testing.
What is all the fuss about? Well, no one has actually used osmosis to produce electricity before, so this technology is new. There are of course many obstacles, but with the first prototype now made, they can test the system and see if it works before scaling it up! That makes sense, but wait, what’s osmosis again?
Osmosis is a process of movement of water. It defines the spontaneous, or passive, water movement from a solution with a lower concentration of solutes (substances dissolved in water) to a solution with higher concentration of solutes, through a semi-permeable membrane. See the figure below for an example. The beaker holds two solutions, and the dashed line is the membrane. The solution on the left is more concentrated, and so water moves from the right into the left. See here for an animation on osmosis.
Using this concept, Statkraft intends to use salt and fresh water from the bay as the two solutions, creating a pressure gradient that pushes up the water level differences and eventually drives a turbine to generate electricity.
Still under testing, the prototype is able to produce enough energy to boil 2-3 kettle pots, and the company is still resolving problems of river bacteria and silt gathering on the membranes – their first obstacle before they scale up to produce energy for countries around the region.
It reminds me of when they first came up with the technology for reverse osmosis, the process that Singapore now uses to produce Newater as well as for desalination of salt water, that was an exciting time!
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The topic of water source protection brought us to the York Region in Newmarket today to listen to the South Georgian Bay Lake Simcoe Source Protection program. Here you see Brook talking to us about the creek in the Eastern Creek Naturalisation Project under the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
To break down the complicated scenario here, we have urban development located on a floodplain that can potentially flood; a man-made pond introduced into the middle of a natural creek (that is unmanaged nor maintained); manicured lawns that perimeter the creek and pond that allow all rainwater to drain directly into the creek/pond without filtration; and water runoff from urban development (carparks and buildings surround the area).
This is how the creek looks like now, and the vegetation has grown back in part because of the efforts of the LSRCA. One of the main methods that have worked really well seemingly (it has only been a year since they’ve done it) is to place Willow and Red Osier Dogwood clippings into a fascine. Growth from the clippings then strengthen the soil and earth structure around the bank, and prevent erosion.
This is the fascine visible from where I’m standing. You can also notice that the water is pretty clear, not very turbid or silty. The stream floods when heavy rains arrive, and when it floods the erosion isn’t too bad because of the fascines and because manicuring of the banks isn’t done anymore. Planting of vegetation that is able to tolerate water as well as salt (salt that comes from road salt used on the snow in winter to make roads more manageable) is planted, so not just any plant will do.
Fishes are present too! He didn’t mention too much about whether frogs and other animals were here though. Fish population doesn’t seem much affected by the management work done on the creek and ponds (largely because they took a very short time to work – in these situations working as fast as possible and staying in the river as short a time as possible is important).
Wood chips placed on the ground also help retain moisture for the plant as well as prevent the grasses from overcrowding the woody vegetation that they want growing there. Ingenious eh? (:
So with the naturalisation project things seem set to go well, and once they start creating the systems needed to treat water going from the pond into the creek that comes from urban runoff, we’ll really see how things work out. right now, oh man its pretty interesting to see bio-engineering at work!
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