Norwegian energy company Statkraft has announced plans to harness usable energy from sea water by building the world's first osmotic power plant.
Osmotic power is a form of renewable energy based on the principle of osmosis where water passes from a region of high concentration to a region of lower concentration through a semi-permeable membrane. Statkraft plans to harness energy from this phenomenon by passing fresh water through a membrane into salt water and using the ensuing pressure difference to drive a turbine.
"You need a continual flow of fresh and sea water coming into the system and a continual outflow of brackish water that runs the turbine," explained Torbjørn Steen, vice president of communications at Statkraft.
The company, which has invested £9m in developing the technology, said the prototype plant will be completed by the end of 2008 and it expects to have a commercially viable technology ready by 2015.
Statkraft estimates that globally osmotic power could generate 1,600TWh of power, including 200TWh in Norway accounting for 10 per cent of the country's current energy use.
However, Steen said that the company will need to continue to improve the efficiency of the technology in order to make it commercially viable.
"Improving the efficiency of output per square metre of membrane is the main challenge for the prototype plant," he explained. "When we started the project we were generating less than one watt per square metre of membrane and now we are up to three watts per square metre. We estimate we need five watts per square metre to make it commercially viable, but we are heading in the right direction."
European Council endorses goal of building a 'climate neutral EU', despite continuing Polish objections
AXA, Aviva, CNP Assurances, and FRR join drive to decarbonise portfolios by 2050, as EU Commissioner promises 'thorough assessment' of Europe's net zero plan
All the green business news from around the world this week
The sector is facing strong headwinds from activists, investors and governments, pitting the companies' relentless growth ambitions against the worsening signs of climate change