Can the ocean improve your life, job and health? In pursuit of the ‘blue economy’
“No water, no life. No blue, no green.”
This quote from Sylvia Earle, an American marine biologist who holds the record for the deepest tunnel on the ocean floor, speaks to the importance of the ocean and its connection to living things.
The ocean is also closely linked to our economic prosperity and traditional ways of life.
At the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, our scientists and engineers research and develop to advance the “blue economy” – defined by the World Bank as “the sustainable use of marine resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of marine ecosystems.”
The value of the blue economy is estimated at $2.5 trillion and counting.
The PNNL team strives to advance research and develop technologies that can support existing and emerging blue economy industries.
A number of projects – in collaboration with government, industry, academic and community partners – are focused on wave, tidal and offshore wind energy; environmental monitoring; Biofuels from sustainable raw materials; mineral extraction from sea water; and carbon dioxide removal from the sea.
This research often leverages the unique capabilities of our PNNL Sequim campus, the DOE’s only coastal and marine science laboratory.
Located on Sequim Bay, Washington State, this facility offers direct access to seawater and specialized laboratory facilities and research instruments. It is also home to more than 80 employees with expertise in biotechnology, biogeochemistry, ecosystem science, toxicology and Earth system modelling.
Researchers’ efforts to support the responsible development of ocean energy include, for example, understanding the acoustic effects on marine mammals and fish and their behavior in the vicinity of ocean energy devices.
Research botanist Scott Edmundson and his colleagues at PNNL are advancing research related to sustainable and clean biofuel made from algae across a broad range of PNNL efforts to support existing and emerging blue economy industries.
PNNL also designs, installs and operates highly instrumented buoys that collect data to inform the development and deployment of offshore wind technology.
Our modeling experts analyze ocean currents, tides and waves to determine ideal locations for ocean energy devices. And their models provide valuable insights into future climate scenarios that support coastal resilience efforts.
In a recent effort, researchers have developed a nanogenerator that efficiently converts wave energy — even from the slower, more steady waves of the open ocean — into electricity.
Their innovation could power sensors and other devices at sea that monitor wave and weather data to help protect coastal communities.
Researchers at PNNL, including scientific divers at the PNNL Sequim campus, are supporting efforts to develop advanced and cost-effective environmental monitoring technologies for ocean renewable energy applications.
PNNL supports remote or island communities to address their energy challenges such as B. Islesboro, Alaska, which experiences frequent power outages due to extreme weather conditions.
Working with the local energy board, PNNL is helping to identify resilient, low-cost energy models that will be fossil-free by 2030 that can benefit all residents equally.
PNNL scientists are researching approaches to extract important minerals from seawater. Together with collaborators from the University of Washington, they discovered a simple way to isolate pure magnesium salt from seawater that promises a cheaper and less energy-intensive alternative to traditional mining or evaporation methods.
Similarly, PNNL is exploring methods of using magnetic nanoparticles to inexpensively extract lithium from seawater and other water sources.
In another project, scientists are investigating how the ocean can be used to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus contribute to curbing climate change.
Zhaoqing Yang, chief scientist for coastal modeling at PNNL, works with his team to develop state-of-the-art models to better understand and predict coastal flooding and potential ocean energy.
They are investigating novel approaches to removing carbon dioxide from the sea that will help accelerate natural CO 2 capture and storage processes.
Their efforts combine electrochemical and biological strategies and include plans to install a first-of-its-kind pilot system as part of a demonstration project this spring.
The ocean is vital to life on earth. It is used to move goods; produce food, medicine and energy; Create jobs; support recreation and tourism; and provide the oxygen we breathe.
Researchers at PNNL are working to augment and protect these bounty from the sea.
Steven Ashby is director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.