Saturday, March 7, 2009



Dato’ Ir Dr A. Bakar Jaafar[1]

Malaysia is not yet on any global map showing the areas with the potential of generating ocean-thermal energy. However, with the completion of a recent marine survey in the South China Sea during the period 2006-08 (MyMRS)[2], it has been confirmed that indeed the temperature at the bottom of the North-Borneo Trough (and also known as “Sabah Tough”) at a water depth of 2900 metres (m) is about 3 degree Celsius (º C), compared to that of the surface at about 29º C. According to the popular scientific literature, any area with such a temperature-differential of over 22º C has the potential generating not only renewable energy but also freshwater[3].

Nonetheless, the latest technology using a highly efficient cycle called "Uehara Cycle” which has been developed by Dr Haruo Uehara, a former President of Saga University, can generate electricity with temperature difference of only 15º C and also desalinate seawater with 5º C temperature difference. As long as there is temperature difference, power generation and desalination are possible regardless whether or not the site is within tropical or subtropical region. That also implies that “waste heat” from industries can be recovered as energy source. This technology is called Discharged Thermal Energy Conversion (DTEC). DTEC system has been under operation at oil refineries in Chiba Prefecture[4].

Most of the planet, over 70 per cent of its surface, is covered by the oceans and their adjoining seas, and they absorb a staggering amount of energy from the Sun each day. Ocean thermal energy conversion, or OTEC, taps into this energy to produce electricity.

Ocean thermal energy conversion relies on the fact that water near the surface is heated by sunlight while seawater deep in the dark is much colder. OTEC plants use warm surface water to heat ammonia or some other fluid that boils at a low temperature. The resulting gas is used to drive turbines that produce electricity. The gas is then cooled by cold water pumped up from the ocean depths and the resulting fluid is recycled to help generate power[5].

In other words “OTEC is a power plant to use warm surface seawater to evaporate working fluid of ammonia-water, and then the ammonia vapor drives turbines to generate electricity. The ammonia vapor is cooled by cold deep seawater to be condensed and the re-liquefied ammonia-water is recycled as the working fluid.”[6]

In fact, the history of this technology is not that new; the basic of which was introduced by a French scientist Mr. A. D'Arsonval in 1881, over a century ago. Since then, there had been hardly any development or interest until the oil crisis in 1970s. Particularly, researchers in Japan, and in the USA as well, were strongly motivated for in-depth study of OTEC. The said professor at Saga University of Japan started in 1973 his OTEC study and since then, his study team has been tackling all sorts of theme needed for the realization of a commercial OTEC plant. They have built so far 11 experimental plants, acquired the necessary technical data and know-how, and have registered a number of patents both in Japan and in other countries.Xenesys Inc., Ltd., Japan, a company undertaking the commercialization of the Saga University's OTEC study, also took part in the research and development works at the university and was granted in January 2000 by the Japanese Ministry of Education to acquire all patents held by Saga University.

Among many events in the short history of the technology development is the experimental 1MW project by National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), Chennnai, India, that is worthy of special mention from the point of view of its output capacity. The plant, which has been put into operation since mid 2001, has been a stepping stone for a commercial use of OTEC: Prior to this, Saga University succeeded with 1 kW experimental plant in 1977; The Mini-OTEC project by USA was a success with 50kW gross power in 1979; Tokyo Electric Co., and its subsidiary undertook successful experiment of a 120 kW OTEC in the Republic of Nauru 1981; Kyushu Electric Co., of Japan succeeded with their 50kW OTEC in Tokunoshima island in 1982; A 75 kW experimental OTEC plant was installed at Saga University in 1985; USA completed their 210kW open cycle OTEC plant off coast of Kona,Hawaii, in 1993; and Saga University built another experimental 4.5 kW OTEC plant with a newly invented cycle in 1994.[7]

Further development in Japan since 2001 has been the completion in 2002 of Enzan Facility at Enzan City, Yamanashi Prefecture which is equipped with fully automated pressing and welding lines for the production of heat plate exchangers, the key device for the OTEC, thermal energy, and seawater desalination systems; the establishment in 2003 of the Institute of Ocean Energy, Saga University (IOES) with the following activities: basic experiment facility for 30kW OTEC power plant utilizing “Uehara Cycle”; basic experiment facility for seawater desalination system utilizing spray-flash evaporation method (10tonne/day); basic experiment facility for production and storage of hydrogen; basic experiment facility for extraction of lithium from deep seawater; and simulation experiment facility for environmental impact study of deep seawater; and in 2004, the completion of the basic design of power generation system for DTEC to 4,000kW in winter, (and 3,300kW in summer), which is a joint research project undertaken by Chiyoda Corporation, Fuji Oil Co., Ltd. and Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd., with the support of New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), and Sodegaura Oil Refinery of Fuji Oil Co. Ltd, Japan.

What’s the potential in Malaysia, off the Sabah Trough? Based more on the advanced “Uehara Cycle”, than on the classic Rankine Cycle, 1 MW of power could be generated by “pumping” 1.5 cubic metre of “cold water” from a certain depth per second. The size of the Trough is estimated to be about 60 km in width and 100 km in length with the depth of 2500 metres on average. Thus, the amount of energy that could be generated until eternity is well above 50,000 MW, that is about 25 times the size of the 2100 MW of the coal-fired power plant of TNB Janamanjung, in Lumut, Perak, or a challenging alternative nuclear power plant of similar size.

OTEC will be worth over US $50 billion, in terms of the size of the capital required, for its total energy development alone.

What will it take for Malaysia to move forward toward such a sustainable energy future? It would not be any difference from a standard approach that ought to be in place: legal and policy framework with strong political commitment, the necessary institutional arrangement and alignment, and of course, finance. The said technology will follow through … InsyaAllah, God willing!

Penaga, Seberang Prai
1 January 2009

[1] Former Director-General, Department of Environment Malaysia (1990-1995), Advisor to Malaysia National Committee on Continental Shelf, and Elected-Member of the UN CLOS Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (since 1997) (
[2] The survey has been conducted under the auspices of the Malaysian National Committee on Continental Shelf, Secretariat to the National Security Council, Prime Minister’s Department with the Technical Support of PETRONAS, Department of Survey and National Mapping Malaysia, the Hydrography Directorate of Royal Malaysian Navy, and the Department of GeoSciences Malaysia.
[4] www.
[6] Nihon Keizai Shimbun, “Xenesys gets rolling for commercialization of its OTEC plant in Tahiti”, October 18, 2008.



OCEAN THERMAL ENERGY [CLEAN ENERGY] is an excellent scientific R&D discovery - on OTEC there are about 20 institutions demontrated successfully among them an institution at USA have very successfully demonstrated / commissioned OTEC in shortest span of time during 1963 - from this USA organisation NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF OCEAN TECHNOLOGY (NIOT) obtained configuration and started OTEC project during the year 1993 at Tuticurin Tamil Nadu, India and spent about 1000 (one thousand million INR - having apent about 15 years NIOT have not even produced single (1) watt of energy and the OTEC project is getting shelved. for more details under RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT RTI Act, any one can obtain documents/records/email/file notings from The Public Information Officer, Central Vigilance Commission, Delhi, quoting CVC Ref: 611/05/10 - then how much bungllings/non-transaparancyis there at NIOT.

One can obtain white paper/performance report from NIOT on thousand million worth OTEC project, and three thousand million worth TDV projects.

Let us appreciate and give promotion to the scientific community who really demonstrate the R&D efforts success not the people who waste Government grants on the name of Scientific R&D activities.

Esteban said...

dato', can u explain more on why AMMONIA is chosen to power the turbine?


dear Mr. Esteban,

point 5 & 6 give very clear explanation on usage of Ammonia.

But for high toxic content and accident prone, Ammonia is the best for this purpose.

Abu Bakar Jaafar said...

Dear Mr Nathan,
Thank you for having highlighted the said Project which had yet to produce a single Watt. I should look into this at the first opportunity. All the best. ABJ


Respected Sir,

I am an retired (VR) from ISRO and then joined at NIOT as coordinator Stores & Purchase (similar to consultant post) on material management function.

I have tried my level best to correct non-transparent way of working at NIOT - but utterly failed. By protesting the way of working I have resigned from NIOT then again took up consultant job in another Government department - [being a ex.government servent I never wanted to serve private institutions to avoid conflict of interest.

Regarding OTEC project - it is best for the NATION for obtaining clean energy almost at least expenses.

World over about 20 institutions have tried and many of them have infact succeeded in getting energy through OTECT.

almost 1st to achieve the success is an USA institution from whom NIOT took configuration and started OTEC during 1993 (nearly 16 years back) and spent about one thousand million INR -
the fact of the case is not even a single capital equipment procured has been tested and undergone trial test -

worst part of it the POWER TURBINE - even trail vibration test has been waived - according to some scientist [insider] if POWER TURBINE [installed at OTEC barge] is commissioned the barge will sink because of vibration. most interesting part is whether NIOT has planned coolant for AMMONIA vapour [most toxic and accident prone] and how many accident has taken place and whether failure analysis has been done on the accidents - iof any one goest through the details - interesting stories will errupt.

after repeated trial - NIOT is going to close the OTECT project without even producing one single watt of energy [government spent nearly one million INR]

Government grant of about one thousand five hundred million INR for procuring TDV Research vessel.

NIOT contracted TDV vessel without scientific package - then can any scientist call this ship as TDV Research Vessel - NIOT have procured just a CARGO VESSEL in place of TDV Research Vessel for SCIENTIFIC expriment.

CAN any SCIENTIST do this sin to tghe NATION?

NIOT caused a loss of about four thousand million INR on acquiring TDV Research Vessel - still DWT (wight of vessel has been reduced from 6000 m/t to 5000 m/t, electric propulsion has been reduced, super structure highet has been reduced, crew accommodation has been reduced, noise standard [most important for data collection by Research Scientific vessel] has been modified. most worst case is ship builder confiuguration has replaced the 3rd party designer configuration - appointed 3rd party inspection agency has not inspected the vessel before delivery of the vessel.

one can obtain all records,files, file noting, emails under RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT from the PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, CENTRAL VIGILANCE COMMISSION, DELHI quoting CVC Ref: 611/05/10

I have al filed complaint on these case with CVC/CAG/CBI and also informed the details to His Excellency President of India, Honourable Prime Minister, and also Honourable Members of Parliament.

Having known non-transparent actions, I have resigned from NIOT service before concluding TDV Research Vessel - as an ordinary government employee maximum what I can do is to disassociate with the illegal action.


with kind regards