Nathaniel Harmon is an oceanographer, Bitcoiner and cofounder of OceanBit. In this interview, we discuss how an old technology deriving energy from ocean temperature differences can provide unlimited renewable baseload energy, and Bitcoin’s vital and symbiotic role.
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In the 1880s, a French engineer devised an engine that generated renewable energy from the oceans: Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). It works by harnessing the large temperature differences between warm ocean surfaces and cold deep waters. This can occur within relatively short vertical distances (i.e. 100m). Such differences can be used to evaporate ammonia, driving a turbine, after which the ammonia can be re-liquified in a closed cycle system.
The issue since the 1880s has been the technology has not been able to achieve economies of scale in competition with cheaper energy sources i.e. coal, oil and gas. The first OTEC plant was built in the 1930s, following which a further 14 test plants have been built at various times and geographies. But, no project has been able to overcome the hurdle of progressing from prototype to operational plant.
And yet, given the size of the ocean, OTEC is the largest untapped renewable energy source in the world. Further, given the temperature differences don’t subside at night, it is a baseload supply. The potential is obviously huge. Anything that could be used to offset the capital costs of the R&D phase could lead to a new energy revolution. Enter Bitcoin.
Bitcoin mining’s utility in directly monetising energy provides significant flexibility for developing a capital-efficient OTEC prototype. Such a facility would not need to be tethered to transmission lines: it would be able to exploit the best locations for OTEC around the equator. The genius in the proposal though is that OTEC and Bitcoin mining are symbiotic: access to limitless cold water means mining efficiency can be maximised.
And there’s more. The production of energy in the ocean opens up all kinds of opportunities that could literally change the world. All from a technology that had all but been forgotten, but now stands to be reinvigorated by Bitcoin.