Decades of tree and biomass research jointly conducted by Florida Statue University and Shell Energy have resulted in the planting of the largest single “Energy Crop Plantation” in the entire United States. This Plantation spans approximately 130 acres and is home to over 250,000 planted trees including cottonwoods (native to the area) and eucalyptus (which are non-invasive) along with various row crops such as soybeans. This organization of “super trees” was brought into being as a result of the University's joint research with other agencies including Shell, the US Department of Energy, the Common Purpose Institute, and groups of various individuals who are working to develop alternative energy sources (those not dependent on fossil fuels) for the future. This research is focused on the planting and processing of biomass energy supplies from fast-growing crops known as “closed loop biomass” or simply “energy crops”. The project seeks to develop “power plants” such as wood-pulp or wood-fiber providing plants; clean biogas to be used by industries; plants such as surgarcane which can be used for ethanol development; and crops such as soybeans for biodiesel fuel production.

University involvement in alternative energy research is also going on at Penn State University. At Penn State, special research is focused on the development of hydrogen power as a practical alternative energy source. The researchers involved are convinced that mankind is moving toward a hydrogen-fueled economy due to the needs for us to reduce air pollution and find other sources of energy besides petroleum to power up the United States. Hydrogen energy burns clean and can be endlessly renewed, as it can be drawn from water and crop plants. Hydrogen power would thus be a sustainable energy resource to be found within the US' own infrastructure while the world's supply of (affordable) oil peaks and begins to decline. The University seeks to help with the commercial development of hydrogen powered fuel cells, which would be usable in place of or in tandem with combustion engines for all of our motor vehicles.

When President Bush recently announced his alternative energy initiative, he determined that the government would develop five “Sun Grant” centers for concentrated research. Oregon State University has the honor of having been selected as one of these centers, and has been allocated government grants of $20 million for each of the next four years in order to carry out its mission. OSU will lead the way in researching alternative energy as it represents the interests of the Pacific Islands, the US' Pacific Territories, and nine western states. OSU President Edward Ray says, the research being conducted through OSU’s Sun Grant center will contribute directly to our meeting President Bush’s challenge for energy independence. Specific research into alternative energy being conducted at OSU by varios teams of scientists right now include a project to figure out how to efficiently convert such products as straw into a source of renewable biomass fuel, and another one aimed at studying how to efficiently convert wood fibers into liquid fuel.

 

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) was conceived of by the French engineer Jacques D'Arsonval in 1881. However, at the time of this writing the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii is home to the only operating experimental OTEC plant on the face of the earth. OTEC is a potential alternative energy source that needs to be funded and explored much more than it presently is. The great hurdle to get over with OTEC implementation on a wide and practically useful level is cost. It is difficult to get the costs down to a reasonable level because of the processes presently utilized to drive OTEC. Ocean thermal energy would be very clean burning and not add pollutants into the air. However, as it presently would need to be set up with our current technologies, OTEC plants would have the capacity for disrupting and perhaps damaging the local environment.

There are three kinds of OTEC.

“Closed Cycle OTEC” uses a low-boiling point liquid such as, for example, propane to act as an intermediate fluid. The OTEC plant pumps the warm sea water into the reaction chamber and boils the intermediate fluid. This results in the intermediate fluid's vapor pushing the turbine of the engine, which thus generates electricity. The vapor is then cooled down by putting in cold sea water.

“Open Cycle OTEC” is not that different from closed cycling, except in the Open Cycle there is no intermediate fluid. The sea water itself is the driver of the turbine engine in this OTEC format. Warm sea water found on the surface of the ocean is turned into a low-pressure vapor under the constraint of a vacuum. The low-pressure vapor is released in a focused area and it has the power to drive the turbine. To cool down the vapor and create desalinated water for human consumption, the deeper ocean's cold waters are added to the vapor after it has generated sufficient electricity.

“Hybrid Cycle OTEC” is really just a theory for the time being. It seeks to describe the way that we could make maximum usage of the thermal energy of the ocean's waters. There are actually two sub-theories to the theory of Hybrid Cycling. The first involves using a closed cycling to generate electricity. This electricity is in turn used to create the vacuum environment needed for open cycling. The second component is the integration of two open cyclings such that twice the amount of desalinated, potable water is created that with just one open cycle.

In addition to being used for producing electricity, a closed cycle OTEC plant can be utilized for treating chemicals. OTEC plants, both open cycling and close cycling kinds, are also able to be utilized for pumping up cold deep sea water which can then be used for refrigeration and air conditioning. Furthermore, during the moderation period when the sea water is surrounding the plant, the enclosed are can be used for mariculture and aquaculture projects such as fish farming. There is clearly quite an array of products and services that we could derive from this alternative energy source.