The Hydrokinetic Energy Transfer System: A Promising New Alternative Energy?

The same NASA developer who created a method to power robotic underwater vehicles has proposed a new technology aimed at converting energy from the ocean into electrical energy. Water-based electricity generation is nothing new. Hydropower is an important source of energy for many nations, as evidenced by China’s ambitious dam projects.

Jack Jones and Yi Chao of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory invented a method for underwater devices to help feed themselves. Technology involves using the temperature differences around you to create energy. It is a phase change material that changes from solid to liquid when temperatures go from cold to warm. The pressure on the liquid is used to generate electricity, which helps to charge the battery.

Researchers realize that high pressure liquid could be applied on a larger scale. Finally, Jone and Chao, together with Caltech, proposed a system that would use fresh water in a closed cycle, so that there would be no harm to the environment in the process. As an added bonus, the design also “eliminates all submerged electrical components, which are subject to corrosion,” says Jones. This is another additional benefit of the system, as together with a low-cost electrical generation system, it could mean that this entire system could be developed with a lower budget and be more secure than the tidal generation system currently used in the East River in Manhattan.

The system also allows power to be generated on demand, which would help meet peak usage hours when power demands are highest. Other environmental technologies do not operate in a similar way and often produce energy at unpredictable times. The benefits of this are enormous, especially in the event that traditional polluting power generation methods that help satisfy demand during peak hours need to be phased out or banned.

Ultimately, profitability will be the main issue. Will this technology become economically practical? NASA scientists say current research on that aspect is only in the early stages and cannot make any promises. Many of these promising technologies are being introduced. Since energy is such an important aspect of our economy, it has become vital for researchers like these at NASA to get the right funding and support. In the midst of trillions of dollars being given away for free to bankers and homeowners who bought houses they couldn’t afford, less than 1% is heading for promising projects like this one.

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