by | Y.Bhg. Dato’ Ir Dr A Bakar Jaafar
“With the development of its ocean thermal energy resource, Malaysia’s dependency on imported coal from a limited range of countries could be reduced, and thus, its national security would not be subject to needless geopolitical risks.”
Ocean thermal energy resources could be the latest frontier that ought to be explored and exploited on a sustainable basis, not only for the sake of national interests, but also for “the maintenance of peace, justice, and progress for peoples of the world.”1 Much of the energy from the sun, if not captured by nature in the form of wind, hydro-energy, biomass, waves, and currents, is stored in the surface layers of a body of water in the form of heat.2 The heat contained in the water column, particularly in the deep waters of the tropics, can be converted3 into electrical energy or energy product equivalent,”such as hydrogen. If there is no immediate use of the electricity, once generated, it could be converted to hydrogen by electrolysis. It is projected that by the end of the 21st century, hydrogen fuel will make up over 50% of all forms of energy.
Since the conclusion of the Malaysian Marine Survey of the South China Sea (2006-2008) (MyMRS)4, it has been established that Malaysia has the capacity to generate power up to 105,000 MW from the heat stored in the deep waters (over 700 metres in depth), covering a total area of 131,120 square kilometres, off the states of Sabah and Sarawak. With forthcoming investments to develop this resource, Malaysia will be very much in a commanding position to make further progress toward realising its Vision 2020 and other sustainable development objectives as a developed nation.
With regard to energy security, with the development of its ocean thermal energy resource, Malaysia’s dependency on imported coal from a limited range of countries could be reduced, and thus, its national security would not be subject to needless geopolitical risks.
In the environment and climate change mitigation areas, increasing use of hydrogen fuel from renewables would not only improve the ambient air quality — otherwise adversely affected by the vehicular and industrial emissions from fossil-fuel combustion — but would also boost the economics of transportation of goods and services. This will also offset the fear of the so-called inflationary socio-economic impact of removing fossil-fuel subsidies. The imminent transition of the economy from fossil-fuel dependence to that of a hydrogen economy would also help reduce green-house gas emissions,6 and thus, lessen the increasing threats of climate change.
The cold and nutrient-rich deep-sea water, after its use in the basic ocean thermal energy conversion to electrical power generation (OTEC) plant for the condensation of the plant’s working fluid — from gas back to liquid form — in itself is an invaluable resource for:
- Cooling the soil for growing temperate produce and fruits in the tropics7;
- Raising high-value fish, such as ‘fugu’8, and other types of marine products such as abalone and lobsters
- Growing high-value seaweeds such as ‘umi-budou’9 and ‘ogu’;
- Growing micro-algae that can be converted into jet-fuel10;
- Promoting the growth of phytoplankton and thus, zooplanktons that attract small and big fish;11
- Extracting lithium,12 an essential metal in the manufacture of advanced batteries;
- Producing both fresh-water13 and mineral water14; and
- Producing cosmetics, and other health and beauty products.
- Such OTEC-related industries could be developed to transform the economy of the underdeveloped rural-coastal and island communities by setting up a number of OTEC Industrial and
- Techno-Parks, such as those already established in Kumejima, Okinawa, Japan, and Big Island, Hawaii.
With an OTEC Project at Pulau Layang-Layang ensuring a sustainable supply of energy, water, and food to support human habitation, this island could truly live up to its name under international laws, and Malaysia could uphold its national sovereignty as per its published PETA BARU of 1979.
Ocean thermal energy-driven development is highly impactful, not only as a key sustainable development game-changer, but also as a highly strategic resource in terms of national sovereignty and security, including energy security and climate change mitigation.
1 The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, New York: United Nations, 1983. p.1.
2 Al-Quran, Surah An-Nur, 24:40
3 This knowledge of converting the heat into electricity was discovered by Jacques-Arsene D’Arsonval, a French physicist, in 1881.
4 This survey was undertaken under the auspices of the National Technical Committee on Continental Shelf, Secretariat to National Security Council, Prime Minister’s Department, Putrajaya.
5 Currently, energy pricing does not reflect not only the true cost of energy, but also does not differentiate the various forms of energy carrier. For the same price, one kilogramme is equivalent to one-gallon of petroleum in terms of energy content. But one-kilogramme of hydrogen fuel used in Hydrogen-Fuel Cell Vehicle (HCFV) will travel farther away by 60 kilometres more than the standard petrol-driven car with Internal Combustion Engine (ICE). In our national car programme is not developing its own HCFV, it will soon be wiped out from this Mother-Earth
6 The 7% shortfall in meeting the YAB PM’s pledge in 2009 at COP-15 could be easily met by investing in a total of 875 MW of OTEC by 2020, with total capital outlay of USD 8.75 billion.
7 Theapplication of cold deep sea-water for cooling the soil for temperate agriculture in the lowlands would relieve the increasing pressure on the nation’s montane forest lands and high-hills, including Cameron Highlands.
8 Fugu fish raised in deep sea-water is no longer poisonous due to the absence of any form of virus and bacteria in such body of water. 9 This is very high value produce, served as table salad, or otherwise packed and retailed at USD 7 per 50 gm wet.
10 Cellana, based in Hawaii, is one of the companies that has commercialized the conversion of micro-algae to jet-fuel. 11 This type of fish-gathering and capture, known as Takuma, has been well demonstrated in the Bay of Tokyo, Japan.
12 The pilot plant for lithium extraction has been in operation at Saga University Institute of Ocean Energy Systems, Imari, Kyusu, Japan.
13 Off Chennai, one-MW OTEC plant has been running since 1999 to produce fresh-water to support 20,000 residents. One unexpected benefit from this Project has been the drop in the number of incidents of water-borne diseases to almost NIL.
14 Koyo USA, Inc of Big Island, Hawaii has been bottling per day one-million bottles of mineral water from the deep sea and exporting them to Japan for retail at USD 7 per bottle. It has also been established that drinking deep-sea mineral water could help reduce obesity, cholesterol, and blood pressure.