Tag Archives: energy

Innovation in the Ocean

Climate change has cast a pall over the fate of our vast oceans. Failing fisheries, rising oceans, destroyed coral reefs and salinity change point towards a dim oceanic future. Innovations battling climate change however are using the ocean in hopes of halting some of these consequences.

Below is a list of innovations in oceans helping to reverse climate change or improve ocean ecosystems.


  1. The PowerBuoy 
A PowerBuoy floats in the ocean. Photograph by ThinkDefense.
A PowerBuoy floats in the ocean. Photograph by ThinkDefense.

The PowerBuoy is a renewable energy invention that harnesses the ocean’s energy.

The PowerBuoy runs off of marine hydrokinetic energy or MHK. MHK is a type of energy produced by harnessing the energy form the movement of waves, currents and tides.

In addition to producing renewable energy, the PowerBuoy is also environmentally friendly. The water device has no known detrimental effects on surrounding ocean environments.

A PowerBuoy is currently installed off the coast of New Jersey and provides offshore activities with safe, reliable electricity. The PowerBuoy’s current most applicable use is providing electricity to offshore power markets.

The PowerBuoy is built off of a scalable model, and can be installed in any convenient ocean location.

Renewable ocean energy is also an advantageous source of energy because 13% of the world’s urban population lives near coastlines.

Inventions that harness the energy of the ocean could help transform the sources of energy worldwide. Finding more sources of renewable energy can help stabilize the generation uncertainty of solar and wind power.


  1. Offshore Wind
Offshore wind turbines spin off the coast of Denmark. Photograph by Eskinder Debebe for the United Nations.
Offshore wind turbines spin off the coast of Denmark. Photograph by Eskinder Debebe for the United Nations.

The ocean serves as an excellent source for reliable, steady wind. While onshore wind in the United States is heavily popular, offshore wind around the globe is becoming increasingly feasible.

Offshore wind turbines can be installed in the ocean and use the steady, strong ocean wind to generate electricity. The spinning turbines generate energy, which is then transmitted to onshore locations.

Offshore wind in Europe is particularly popular. In the year 2014, as much as 3000 MW of offshore wind power was connected to the grid. The majority of the added offshore wind power was provided by Germany.

Since then, Germany has only continued to increase its reliability on offshore wind by installing more and more offshore wind turbines.

The US has one offshore wind structure, despite the country’s massive wind potential. Offshore wind has faced a lot of opposition partly due to aesthetics.

David Rogers is a state director at Environment North Carolina, an environmental advocacy organization. Rogers explains why North Carolina and the U.S. lack offshore wind projects.

“I think their are a couple of reasons why it feels like offshore wind is moving more slowly than we would like. The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s a relatively new technology, especially in the U.S., where to date we have no offshore wind capacity anywhere,” Rogers says. “The other factor currently is the cost associated with offshore wind. Because it’s a new technology, we haven’t built the economies of scale that other energy sources have developed to help lower costs.”

Offshore wind does face many drawbacks including political opposition, high cost of installment, scale and natural disaster threat.

Offshore wind nonetheless has proven extremely feasible and reliable in EU energy markets.


  1. Coral Reef Oil Rigs
Fish swim around coral structures in Pohnpei. Photograph by David Burdick for the NOAA Photo Library.
Fish swim around coral structures in Pohnpei. Photograph by David Burdick for the NOAA Photo Library.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing ocean inventions, or should we say recycling projects, has been coral reef oil rigs.

Scientists have found new uses for abandoned oil rigs – turn them into coral reefs. Since climate change has been devastating coral reefs worldwide, scientists are looking towards artificial reefs to save coral reef habitats. Abandoned oil rigs are one such artificial reef.

The makeshift coral reefs have proven successful. One such abandoned oil rig off the coast of California is thriving with marine life.

Some groups disapprove of converting rigs to reefs, however. Due to the large amount of oil spills from some California oil rigs, many want them permanently and completely removed. A spokeswoman from the Environmental Defense Center argues that oil companies should have to pay for the removal of defective rigs.

Brian Naess, who serves as a lecturer for the University of North Carolina’s Coral Reef Ecology and Management class, explains why he is in favor of artificial reefs.

“I do support artificial reefs, so long as they do not pose a contamination threat or pose a navigational hazard. There is literature about the dangers of using structures composed of metals, as they will eventually rust and fall apart.” Naess says. “But, I think if it’s done well, an artificial reef will act as a place for fish to congregate, a surface for coral and sponges to attach to, and, potentially, as a place for dive operators to visit.”

Many rigs are being converted due to the large amount of marine life they have been seen to harbor. With coral reef habitats being destroyed worldwide, either rigs or other artificial structures may have to take the place of true coral reefs.

DoD and Environment by the Years

Although environmentalism and energy related topics may seem like recent issues, buzz words now, and issues of today and tomorrow, the United States Department of Defense has been tackling these problems for a while.

Here’s a timeline of the development of our U.S. environmental movement, and its relationship with the military.

For the full list and explanation of current DoD polices and directives on energy conservation, click here.


FAQ: Energizing Waste

How much do we really waste?

In 2013, Americans produced about 254 million tons of municipal solid waste (aka garbage), and recycled about 34.3% of that. That is about 4.4 pounds of garbage per person, per day.

Overall, municipal solid waste is over 60% organic. After recyclables are sorted out of the waste, what is left usually rots in landfills.


Photo: The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Is this a new thing?

The US began burning waste in 1885 and by the mid-20th century, hundreds of incinerators were built to burn waste.

In 1970, the Clean Air Act put new regulations on incinerators, which had been polluting air and water sources.

Still, the practice of burning solid waste grew in the 1980s with more than 15% of waste being burnt in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, more regulation was put on incinerators to control for mercury and dioxin emissions, causing the shutdown of many incinerators.

How widespread is incinerating waste for electricity?

 In 2013, 86 facilities in the US burned municipal solid waste for energy recovery. These facilities processed over 28 million tons of garbage to produce 2,720 megawatts of power per year. That is about 12% of the total municipal solid waste in the US.

“Burning waste to create energy should be more widespread,” said Nina Luker, a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Trash overflow can be controlled without to many harmful effects, and it seems to be the best option for what to do with our garbage.”

Is there a downside?

Burning waste creates ash, which will eventually go into landfills, and could potentially cause serious environmental problems. The ash is about 5-15% weight and volume of the original waste, so more could be stored. However, if the ash escapes, it would be very bad for air and water quality all around the landfill.


Photo: David Clow

Is incinerating solid waste the only way to get energy from trash?

No! Landfills are the third-larges source of human-created methane in the United States. This methane is a very harmful green house gas, but is now being collected and used for energy. It can be used in internal combustion engines, turbines, micro turbines and fuel cells to create both electricity and thermal energy.

Is electricity generation from waste used internationally?

Yes. In fact, Sweden is one of the world’s biggest success stories, heating 950,000 homes with trash. The Swedes recycle 47% of their waste, use 52% to generate heat, and less than 1% of their garbage ends up in landfills. They have begun to import trash to continue meeting the heating plants’ needs. The Swedish municipal association estimates that 1 ton of imported garbage saves about 1,100 pounds of methane from decomposing in landfills.

“I think the Swedes’ method of recycling and energy creation is a step in the right direction,” said Natalie Briggs, a first year at UNC-CH. “Other contries should soon follow to ensure better energy conservation.”


Photo: Elliott Brown


Seaweed: The Superfood to Save an Unsustainable Ocean

Q. What is unsustainable about how we use the ocean?

A. Imagine miles of industrial net stretched out across Africa, encroaching forward and blindly trapping and killing everything in its path. Hunters employed it to catch cattle, but elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes and gazelles are swept up to die.

This would be unacceptable, but it happens- not on the great visceral West African plains, but in the ocean.

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The prominent methods of fishing today exist on such an industrial scale that cycles of traditional fish stock are being depleted and do not have time to recover. According to the United Nations, oceanic biodiversity is now more at risk than ever.

For example, bottom trawling, a practice known as the “curtains of death,” aims to catch fish. But 80-90% of its catch includes unintended species like sea turtles, whales, sharks, and crustaceans. It slaughters flagship sea life while conditionally destroying precious seabed.

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Q. Ok, so what can we do?

A. Surprisingly, one way to help the problem is by increasing our demand from a certain sector of the ocean. That is because:

The future of farming…

…is underwater.










3-D, or vertical ocean farming is an upstart method used to grow seaweed in columns, and the farms provide a plethora of environmental benefits:

  • Providing habitat for wildlife species like fish and birds.
  • Creating natural reef systems and barriers that lessen the impact of storms.
  • The kelp grown absorbs five times the amount of carbon as plants do on-land.
  • The farms capture nitrogen, limiting the potential for algae booms that create dead zones.

Among seaweed’s uses are biofuel energy, animal feed, fertilizer, pharmaceutical ingredients, cosmetic products, and food products.

Q. Seaweed as energy, you say?

A. Yes, I do say.

GreenWave is an organization at the forefront of 3-D farming. According to its website, seaweed from this kind of space-efficient farming could translate into enough for an energy overhaul.

“According to the US Department of Energy,” the site says, “a network of farms totaling an area half the size of Maine could grow enough biofuel to replace all of the oil used in the US.”

Biofuel though, is not a driving factor in expanding vertical farming right now, likely due to oil prices that have hit their lowest rate since the 90’s, if not earlier, according to the New York Times.

Q. If energy use won’t drive expansion, what will?

A. Still a very young practice that is just a few years underway, the large-scale implementation and accompanying environmental benefits of vertical farming may lie in the demand for seaweed as a (super) food source.
Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 2.53.15 PM According to Greenwave, a network of seaweed farms the size of Washington State could produce all of the dietary protein needs of the human population.

Q. Yum?

A. In the Unites States, seaweed slid into the market as a healthy snack alternative. This angle has proved successful, however it has not reached potential like it has in Asian countries.

Dr. Dan Kim, from South Korea, is a former player in the marketing world and a current professor of the subject at UNC.

“Interestingly here, my son takes seaweed as a snack. I don’t know why, but Americans see it a snack, not a real meal,” he said.

In Asian countries, he said, seaweed exists in a greater variety than in the U.S. He said it is a complementary dish that accompanies meals regularly- usually with rice and soy sauce.

Seaweed’s appeal lies in its health benefits- its nutrients and minerals, he said.

Q. Will Americans care?

A. If kale could do it, so could seaweed.

Like kale, strands of seaweed provide:

  • A healthy alternative
  • Ecological benefits
  • Environmental positives
  • Jobs

Both Slow Food USA and Grub Street have predicted seaweed will supersede kale as America’s next superfood obsession.

Q. I don’t like change- Will the rest of the country?

A. Kim said that breaking into a foreign market is both exciting and challenging for a marketer.

“It is really hard to change American’s consumption patterns and meal style,” he said.

This is why he suggests targeting children- introducing them to seaweed snacks now would have a cyclic impact, Kim said.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 2.49.10 PM

“If the children are getting familiar with the taste and the texture of the seaweed, after they grow up,” he said, “its more likely that they will buy the same for their major meals.”

Ethan Wallenius-Caldwell is an omnivorous senior at UNC who has seen this pattern start wash into fruition.

His cousin living in Hawaii, he said, introduced her son to seaweed chips when the child was just a one year old. It was to keep him off of sugar snacks, he said.

“Now as a three year old it’s probably his favorite snack and it has kept him nutritious and he’s healthy,” he said.

Wallenius-Caldwell mainly uses seaweed as a seasoning, which he says he likes. If generations like his can move from casual consumers to seaweed demanders, we would have more farms, more reefs and a better ocean.