From Diana J. Choyce
May 22 - 28, 2000
It's no secret that man must find alternatives to natural resource
power, and very soon before we delete supplies beyond recovery. But as usual man has put
his incredible imagination to work to solve this problem. This week we're going to talk
about some of these new ideas.
The most unusual idea comes to us from the country of Spain. Spanish
farmers have developed an ingenious method of using genetically modified artichokes to
produce electricity. Using a newnewable crop source is an ideal solution. The artichokes
have roots of more than 7 meters (yards) long, and are expected to generate power for more
than 60,00 people in the towns of Villabilla de Burgos and Alcala de Gurrea.Operations are
planned to begin in two years. European Union subsidies and price guarantees motivated the
farmers to try this new scheme. Burning vegetables for power is not a new idea but has
seen a resurgence in the past few years as man struggles for alternative power sources.
There are a number of these "biomass" power schemes in Europe but it is a very
competitive business. The company that comes up on top of the competition will likely
garner great profit, but should also be content in knowing that their products and ideas
could save mankind from a growing dilemma.
Another idea that comes to us from Hawaii, uses sea water to irrigate
crops. Cold salt water from the depths of the Pacific Ocean is being pumped into a field
at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii on the Big Island to provide the plants with
water. The water never touches the soil or the plants directly, but the cold pipes create
condensation that waters the garden and eliminates the need for conventional irrigation.
The roots of the plants are chilled and tricked into thinking they are in perpetual spring
mode. Crops such as artichokes, brussel sprouts, roses and other non-tropical varieties
are being used. The method is "a breakthrough for world agriculture," says Dr.
John Craven, president of Common Heritage Corporation of Oahu which developed the
technique. "It allows us to convert the desert into a sustainable habitat," said
Dr. Craven, holder of a degree in ocean engineering. Dr, Craven established the Common
Heritage Corporation in 1990 to study and develop sustainable ocean resources. It is a for
profit firm whose goal is to establish self-sufficient environmentally, economically and
culturally sustainable communities in coastal zones and islands that have access to deep
ocean water. Dr. Sylvia Earle, an internationally famous oceanographer and explorer, is a
CHC board member. The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii has a site on a lava desert near
Hawaii's Kona International Airport, which pumps water from 2,000 feet deep to improve the
growth of plants and shellfish. The experimental cold ocean water garden is one of two
dozen enterprises at the state research agency. It was founded in 1974 by then Hawaii
Governor John Burns and Dr. Craven in his capacity as Marine Affairs Coordinator of the
State. Dr. Craven continued as sponsor and chairman of the Board until 1990, when the NELH
as an independent State Corporation was converted into an Authority under the Department
of Business and Economic Development. Japan is also preparing to launch a commercial
spinach-growing operation on Okinawa's Kume Island, providing a large-scale test of the
process. That project is expected to pay for itself.
The cold sea water condensation process pumps nutrients up to the
plants at a very fast rate. "The colder the root, the tastier the vegetables,"
says Dr. Craven. "When you harvest, the plant doesn't die; it just keeps
growing." The Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii was founded to generate electricity
from the temperature differential between deep ocean water and the surface. This process
proved too costly to use until technology catches up to the idea. So these pipes are now
used for the water irrigation process. They currently pump 16,000 gallons of water each
minute, at 42 degrees F. The Hawaii Legislature has allocated $15 million to install a
55-inch pipeline that will pump from 3,000 feet down in the ocean. It will triple the
volume of water for research.
Other uses for the cold ocean water are being developed. Two of the
biggest clam and oyster producers in the U.S. use the NELH site to cultivate more than 330
million shellfish larvae a year. Air conditioning of buildings with cold seawater is also
being demonstrated at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. The Lab saves more than
$4,000 a month over previous costs in the cooling of its office and laboratory building.
Analyses by Makai Ocean Engineering have indicated that for Guam, 10,000 hotel rooms could
be air conditioned with cold seawater and that the capital payback period for installing
such a system would be approximately five to six years. Deep lake water, too, can be used
to cool buildings. Cornell
University in New York is using a similar concept to provide air
conditioning for its campus. The water is drawn from 270 feet beneath Cayuga Lake in a
system also designed by Makai Ocean Engineering.