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# Geothermal Power from Hydrothermal Vents

Put a geothermal powerplant submarine on an underwater hot spring
 (+7, -5) [vote for, against]

I propose building a submersible geothermal powerplant and sinking it on an existing underwater hot spring (ie geothermal vent). To my (and Google's) knowledge, using undersea geothermal vents for power is a new idea.

To withstand the high external pressure from the water, the powerplant/submersible will be remotely-controlled from the surface with the same controls used for deep-sea scientific probes. The liquid and gas inside the generator turbine would be at pressure close to the surrounding pressure at the seafloor. The turbine would use a working fluid that boils at seafloor pressure and about 400 C. Thus, all systems will either be very strong or will have internal pressure close to external pressure.

Efficiency calculation: Water emerging from hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor is often 400 deg C. The surrounding water is about 1 deg C. A heat engine (ie steam turbine) can be used to generate electricity from this temperature difference. The maximum theoretical thermal efficiency given the source temperatures is 59% (n=1-Th/Tc). Assuming 90% turbine efficiency and 50% transmission losses in the seafloor power lines, the system can use 26% of the heat energy in the hot water from the undersea vent.

Electricity would be carried back to shore along an underwater high-voltage DC cable. The power cable would be over 200mi long, depending on the location of the vent. Undersea DC power cables are currently used to deliver electricity to islands and offshore oil rigs.

Regions with electricity shortages and offshore hydrothermal vents include Japan and the west coast of the United States.

To increase power output, blasting or drilling might be used to increase the water flow from the hydrothermal vent.

If the vent ever stops producing power, the entire submersible plant can be motored / towed to a new undersea geothermal vent.

 — sninctown, Mar 05 2006

World Map of Hydrothermal Vents http://departments....thermal-vents-c.jpg
I became curious about [sninctown]'s proposed 200 mile long DC transmission cable and went looking for a map to show the location of known hydrothermal vents and their proximity to population centers where generated electricity might be useful. This is the best map I found in a cursory search, but it is really inadequate to judge the workability of [sninctown]'s idea. I'll remove this link if a better map is added by another reader. [jurist, Mar 06 2006]

How Steam Turbines Work http://library.thin...mpfturbine.php3?v=2
[sninctown, Jun 23 2006]

Company that makes and lays undersea power cable [sninctown, Jul 21 2006]

Be sure to turn off the sound before clicking on the link [coprocephalous, Jan 05 2009]

 Not sure you'd want to drill on the ridge itself since you'd be drilling directly into the mantle - that'd be a sure fire way to melt all your equipment. Better then to drill a few kms away from the ridge. The rocks are still thin and warm there.

Your Stirling engine would need to be very big to exploit the difference in temperature which ultimately makes this idea a no-goer. Sadly, Stirling engines are not scaleable to a size where they could generate useful energy - they lose efficiency. For that reason, it's a fish.
 — jonthegeologist, Mar 05 2006

 — spidermother, Mar 06 2006

 I vote no just because you deleted annotations. I hate people who do that, it ruins the whole experience. Oh and what the others said(the ones that are still here and the ones you deleted)

 DC power transmission is very inefficent. I would think loss over the required distances would cancel any benefit of having gone there in the first place(which there is little reason to do, as the same features can be found just by drilling from the surface or around volcanos)

You also have an issue with your generator fluid, The increased presure at that depth will very likly make it very hard to boil any liquid, you will need to hold the system at a subambient pressure.
 — jhomrighaus, Jul 21 2006

 Hey, I poured my heart and soul into that anno. You bastard.

 Nah, just kidding. You're all right.

 The question I posed originally is still relevant though - why go to the trouble of tackling all those deep-ocean design problems when you could simply utilise geothermal energy on land? You don't see a lot of industrial installations two miles below, and I can't help but think there's a good reason for that.

[jhomrighaus], I think that HVDC power transmission is cost-effective in certain circumstances. Something to do with cable and insulation sizing, I think. Many seabed cables are HVDC - 100% of the ones I'm aware of, anyway.
 — Texticle, Jul 21 2006

 The longest undersea HVDC cable I've read about is 24mi; most geothermal sites would need more, increasing inefficiency. Wikipedia says that AC is worse since seawater+insulation gives the wire significant capacitance. Well, since this is hb, one option is to use superconducting HVDC cable.

 I am fairly sure a suitable generator fluid could be found, since I suspect that helium is still a gas at oceanfloor pressures and 1degC. I shall check...

[Texticle] A submersible geothermal plant is less vulnerable to sudden increases in volcanic activity than a land-based one is. If volcanic activity at the site suddenly increases, the underwater plant can just float up off of the bottom a bit, avoiding damage while still catching the rising hot water. Also, the deep oceans are largely unregulated, unclaimed and significantly unexplored.
 — sninctown, Jul 21 2006

At the risk of being pertinent, a question. What's the volume of water coming out of these vents?
 — MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 27 2008

 I dun a lot of thinks on dis one myself.

 One feature of these vents is that there are often many in a small area - perhaps 20 in an area the size of a football park.

 The water is very hot - even supercritical - and if I got my sums right one smoker could easily produce a GW of power, let alone 20 of them. It's also loaded with metal salts, so I think there's some chance that a finely woven glass fibre net tube close to the smoker outlet will become saturated with minerals and, so long as buoyancy's kept neutral, will be able to insulate and bring the water up near the surface.

 However, I'm not sure this is required. A toroid, with the hot water going up the inside and cold on the outside, would give a large heat difference from one side to the other. It's also a perfect shape to take the pressure.

 Inside, a bit like the scroll ball on a Mac Mighty mouse, four sealed cylinders lie around the toroid. Inside each cylinder a horizontally mounted revolving door with eg leather flaps making the air seals. The instant air expansion on the inside of the toroid should spin this bigtime.

 There would be enough room left in the toroids to house the generators & rectification gear, and also a virtually perfect heatsink is available if required. These generating toroids would be simple, neutrally bouyant, hopefully no-maintenance, and stackable.

 Output would diminish nearer the surface, but wiring in series might produce HVDC without any extra effort. My understanding is that HVDC is pretty efficient, and subsea it's brilliant - cooling is not an issue.

It's doable, but the capital requirement is large. The mineral salts would also reduce efficiency very quickly, and would have to be removed and/or mined. There would be no need to get near the sea surface though, which avoids a great deal of hassle.
 — james_what, Apr 27 2008

 Whoops - should have added that the inside of these toroids would be at normal air pressure.

pps Might just screw up the Gulf Stream / North Atlantic Drift too?
 — james_what, Apr 27 2008

 Damn. The coordinates of the sunken treasure was encoded in, and only in, that now deleted anno.

So go fish.
 — normzone, Apr 27 2008

 You guys are in the right church, wrong pew. I have patented the first practical system for using deep-ocean hydrothermal vents for commercial energy production. Check it out at www.marshallsystem.com.

You were on the right track, but what was suggested is far, far too complex.
 — bcmarshall, Jan 05 2009

//but what was suggested is far, far too complex//
And the problem with that would be...?
 — coprocephalous, Jan 05 2009

 coprocephalous stated, "//but what was suggested is far, far too complex// And the problem with that would be...?"

If you don't see the problem with complexity, and its inherent disadvantages over simplicity, I won't be able to explain it to you.
 — bcmarshall, Feb 21 2009

 er, ahem... [bcmarshall], sir, would you mind looking around & finding out where you are?

We could explain to you how to escape, but the instructions would run over a thousand pages...
 — lurch, Feb 21 2009

[bcmarshal]'s power calculations don't include conversion - or any other - losses. It's a bit unfair to compare the electricity output of existing power stations with the raw thermal output of a hydrothermal vent. Laws of thermodynamics, yadda yadda.
 — spidermother, Feb 21 2009

 Why not make it a geothermal updraft tower?

If you sunk a long vertical pipe down to the sea floor, with its bottom over the vent, and its top sufficiently shallow that the hot water from the vent boils, then a steam turbine could be placed at the top of the vent, and generate power.
 — goldbb, Feb 22 2009

I have a bad feeling somebody is going to actually try this idea, and the next thing we'll see New Zealand or California completely dissapear.
 — pashute, Jan 05 2011

 [annotate]

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