Wednesday 17 Apr 2024
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KUALA LUMPUR (March 20): The first hybrid ocean thermal energy conversion (H-OTEC) plant in Southeast Asia is ready for testing and commissioning in April this year, and set to launch in October, said Dr Sathiabama T Thirugana, director at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) Ocean Thermal Energy Centre. 

Malaysian is an ideal site for the H-OTEC, thanks to its abundant islands and surrounding seas. The project, which is under the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (Satreps), is a six-year research collaboration between the Japanese government and research universities in Malaysia.  

In 2022, UTM and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) signed a memorandum of understanding and developed the H-OTEC pilot plant at the International Institute of Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences of UPM at Port Dickson.

While ocean thermal energy conversion is popular worldwide, the H-OTEC was developed particularly based on Malaysia’s environment.
“OTEC is a marine renewable energy and generates electricity, while H-OTEC can produce desalinated water and generate electricity. We believe that H-OTEC is the most advanced OTEC system to date,” said Sathiabama during a site visit to the H-OTEC pilot plant last week.
The difference between OTEC and H-OTEC is that OTEC directly converts the temperature difference between warm surface seawater and cold deep seawater
into electricity, while H-OTEC enhances this process by integrating OTEC with other technologies, such as desalination, to improve efficiency and potentially reduce costs.

A view inside the H-OTEC pilot plant at the International Institute of Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences of UPM at Port Dickson.

Currently, there are two functional OTEC demonstration plants worldwide — one located in Kumejima, Japan and another at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Hawaii. The pilot plant in Japan was built in 2013, with technical assistance from Saga University.

Sathiabama believes that the blue energy from H-OTEC represents an alternative renewable energy (RE) that can compete with solar power, which is more
commonplace in Malaysia. 

However, H-OTEC is presently undergoing research and development and will only be ready for commercialisation upon completion of repeated testing for system validation by mid-2024.

“This is a research project. UTM and Saga University in Japan cannot do the commercialisation since we are universities. We are involved in academia. That is why we need industry partners to come on board and materialise, as well as commercialise the RE,” she said. 

Through the pilot project, the researchers were able to deduce that there is a stable renewable power generation by heat exchange between deep and surface seawater.

“Via H-OTEC, we will be able to produce RE for electricity generation to the grid, multi-use of deep-sea water for cooling data centres, desalination, or produce up to two million litres of potable water per megawatt of electricity generated from seawater for agriculture and aquaculture,” said Dr Aki Hirayama, project coordinator at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica).

The Satreps-OTEC project was established to achieve the country’s net zero goals, promote a low-carbon society and tap into the production of blue energy, while addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals within Southeast Asia, particularly in Malaysia, said the project organisers.

Supported by the Jica and the Japan Science and Technology Agency with an amount of RM15 million, along with RM6 million from Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education, the H-OTEC project also aims to drive sustainable development in the region.

Edited ByTan Zhai Yun
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