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Engineering Firm Readying Another OTEC Project

March 26, 2013, 6:22 PM HST
* Updated March 27, 4:25 PM
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An engineering company with a long history in Kona is gearing up for a new venture there in alternative energy production.

Oahu-based Makai Ocean Engineering has been working with the US Navy to refine the production of electricity using the differences in temperature between surface and deep-ocean water.

Company officials said a $1 million, 100-kilowatt generator is expected to be delivered to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii by February 2014. The second phase of the $4.6-million project will involve the installation of the generator and additional research.

Makai Ocean Engineering was involved in the 1970s in the installation of the system of pipes that draws 40-degree water from 3,000 feet deep off Keahole Point. Some of the pipes capture warm surface water, and both are used in a heat exchanger to generate electricity in a process known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC).

The company was also part of the first demonstration of the OTEC process in 1979 at Keahole Point involving a generator built upon a converted Navy barge.


Ironically, the future of OTEC is believed to be in ocean-going vessels, said Makai Vice President Billy Pieper.


Placing the OTEC generators on vessels would be cheaper than land-based systems, Pieper said, partly because there would be no need to acquire land and because the intake pipes could be much shorter.

Makai Ocean Engineering has spent the past three years working with the Navy and the Lockheed Martin Corp. to refine heat exchangers, a key component in the OTEC process.

The project is part of the Navy’s plan to derive half of its energy from alternative, renewable sources by 2020.


The company said the OTEC process is seen as a viable way for private industry to provide up to 300 megawatts of power for Navy and US Marine Corps bases on Oahu and Guam.

“We are trying to find the best ways to get it to commercialization,” Pieper said.

The Makai Ocean Engineering project is separate from another proposal for an OTEC facility at NELHA by OTEC International LLC.

***Updated on March 27 to correct description of photo.***

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