Clean Water Energy, or Hidden Power of the Ocean: Interview with the Dean of the Power Engineering Faculty

On June 8th the World Ocean Day is celebrated. Oceans occupy the major part of the Earth’s surface. People learned how to use their unlimited resources to generate power from the energy of waves, tides, undercurrents, biogas and geothermal sources, but the possibilities hidden in the world’s oceans are much bigger. The Dean of the SUSU Power Engineering Faculty Sergey Gandzha shares on the developments in the field of hydropower engineering around the globe, in Russia and in our university.

— What power is hidden in the World’s oceans?

— The source of all the types of energy on planet Earth used by the mankind is the Sun. Solar radiation reaching the Earth is transformed into other types of energy, which can be used. The World’s oceans occupy ¾ of the Earth’s surface, and they are a gigantic accumulator of the solar power. They transform it into the energy of the waves, wind, ocean currents, biogas, and thermal energy. Modern civilization has learned how to convert these types of energy into electricity. The Sun is an inexhaustible source, that is why the energy of the World’s oceans is practically unlimited.

— How are geothermal sources used to generate power?

— The Earth stores big amounts of thermal energy produced in the times of its formation. The Earth crust contains water, which when reaching lava is heated, and when getting to the surface of the Earth forms geothermal sources. It is very easy to transform steam produced by the heated water into mechanical energy by directing the jet to the blades of the turbine, which rotates the rotor of a generator for production of electric energy. Such sources are scarce on the planet Earth, but in Russia we have them on the Far East. Geothermal heat is also a practically inexhaustible source of power.

— How do oceanic hydroelectric power plants work?

— Different types of oceanic hydroelectric power plants exist. There are hydroelectric power plants which use the energy of waves. To put it simply, these are “floaters”, which rise and fall. The back-and-forth mechanical motion can be converted into electricity. The energy of the moving water during tides may be used very efficiently. Undercurrents also comprise much big amounts of energy. These are permanent and do not depend on seasonal fluctuations. Modern technologies allow to transform these forms of mechanical energy into electricity.

— How can we use the World’s oceans in the field of hydrogen power engineering?

— The World’s oceans are an inexhaustible source of hydrogen. We can, using any alternative energy source, decompose water into its constituents: hydrogen and oxygen, and hydrogen is what hydrogen power engineering is based on. It may be used directly in fuel cells to generate electricity and heat. Both types of energy are a necessity for such cold-climate country as Russia.

Electric power is a very convenient form of energy, which is being used by the modern civilization. It is quite simple to produce it, transmit to long distances, regulate, and use. But it has one peculiar feature. It is very difficult to accumulate it on big scale. The energy produced here and now must be almost instantly used in some other place. The problem of accumulation of electric power on gigantic scale is considered one of the 12 global problems which may significantly change the development of the world economies. Hydrogen power engineering and the World’s oceans, being the source of hydrogen, may become the solution of this problem. But we must use the resources of the World’s oceans rationally. We need to thoroughly think through the issues of environment protection, so that we do not disturb the structure which was being created over millions of years.

— Do SUSU researchers work on solving this problem?

— At the Department of Theoretical Basics of Electrical Engineering of the Power Engineering Faculty we are developing hydrogen power engineering and are working on the problem of accumulating big volumes of electricity. Hydrogen is the smallest of atoms created by nature. It easily penetrates any crystal lattices of other substances, even those of metals. If you fill a pressure bottle with hydrogen, it will in quite short time seep through the walls of any encasement. We have found an innovative solution to the problem of cheap accumulation of unlimited amounts of hydrogen. Using electricity and based on the fuel cells electrical technologies we chemically bind hydrogen to carbon dioxide and convert it to liquid fuel — methanol. Thus, we accumulate electric power transforming it into chemical energy of a hydrocarbon compound. After that this liquid fuel may be used in a methanol battery to generate electricity, heat, water and carbon dioxide. We prepared an article about this research on Development of an Electric Energy Accumulator through Using Methanol-based Direct Fuel Cells, which will be published in a journal indexed in Scopus scientometrical database. The research results will be reported at the International Ural Conference on Green Energy this October.

— What other research studies are being held in the field of hydropower engineering by the Faculty’s students and staff?

— We are working on the possibilities of using the energy of small rivers, since this resource is underestimated both in our region and across our country. Postgraduates under guidance of experienced professors are actively studying these issues. We are planning to reconstruct Porogi hydroelectric power plant on Bolshaya Satka River. On the one hand we’d like to reconstruct a unique historical landmark, which is planned to be included into the UNESCO catalogue of protected monuments, since it is the oldest non-stop functioning hydroelectric power plant in Russia – it is more than 100 years old. At the same time, once reconstructed, this hydroelectric power plant may bring commercial benefit, since its capacity according to our estimations equals about 640 kilowatt. This power plant may generate the annual amount of electric power equivalent of 12 million roubles as per the existing rates. A training center is being created on this territory, and equipment for students’ distance learning is being installed.

— What changes are expected in the work of the Power Engineering Faculty in the future?

— The Faculty is fulfilling the Rector-approved strategy on the Distributed Digital Power Engineering and Smart Electric Drive. According to this strategy, the first stage will include computerization of all the facilities of generation and consumption of electric and thermal energy. The Power Engineering Faculty features five power sources: gas generator station, gas-turbine station, wind-driven power plant, electric energy powerblock and municipal stationary network. We will be working and digitalizing them and making them “smart”. At the second stage a computer supersystem will be created, which will control these facilities with regard to their energy efficiency, energy saving, and protection from accidents. According to the tasks outlined by the President of Russia, today work is being actively performed in the field of digital economy, and Industry 4.0. We are ready for this work. Automation and computerization in power engineering started 50–60 years ago, everything formed in such a way that we could have Smart Energy, and we are stepping up to this frontier with good groundwork.

Azaliya Sharafutdinova, photo by: PressFoto, Anna Styazhkina
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