UOG joins research efforts toward harnessing energy from the sea

UOG joins research efforts toward harnessing energy from the sea

UOG joins research efforts toward harnessing energy from the sea


Group photo of David Patrick Crisostomo, Bastian Bentlage, John Francis Limtiaco
From left: David Patrick Crisostomo, aquaculture specialist at the University of Guam Sea Grant; Bastian Bentlage, associate professor of bioinformatics at the Marine Lab, UOG; and John Francis Limtiaco, assistant professor of chemistry at the College of Natural and Applied Sciences; are photographed on Jan. 12 on campus at UOG with Pago Bay in the background.

Guam households have historically been paying a high cost of electricity because most power plants on the island still use imported and expensive fossil fuel.

Imagine if seawater could be harnessed to produce hydrogen for electricity in Guam.

Researchers across the country have spent years looking into ways to split seawater, which Guam has an unlimited supply of, into hydrogen and oxygen. It’s a process called "seawater splitting." With the split, hydrogen can be used for producing or delivering electricity.

But using seawater has also stumped scientists because, as National Science Foundation researchers and others have found, chloride ions in seawater turn into toxic chlorine gas, and can quickly corrode equipment used to produce energy.

The challenge has been to figure out how to use seawater in a way that does not harm the environment, will not be costly, and will not cause power production equipment to degrade quickly.

Research related to this field is now reaching Guam shores.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is providing the University of Guam with funding for faculty and student researchers to work alongside engineers and scientists at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to gain a fundamental understanding of seawater electrolysis. The research on reductive and oxidative reactions will build a foundation for fundamental research and scientific training at UOG while expanding the fundamental knowledge necessary for carbon-neutral hydrogen fuel generation and storage technologies.

DOE will also fund summer research experience at PNNL’s lab, starting with two UOG students and John Francis Limtiaco, assistant professor of chemistry, in 2023. Five UOG students will be allowed to experience PNNL research during the summer in 2024 and 2025.

$1.69M for UOG

DOE’s Office of Science is providing $1.695 million in research funding to UOG. PNNL will receive $555,000 for the three-year project through 2025. The laboratory is a leading center for technological innovation in renewable energy.

The research at UOG will be led by Principal Investigator Limtiaco. His group will seek answers to the question: “Can the organic compounds present in seawater protect the anode from deactivation by steering the selectivity of the electrolysis away from the chlorine evolution reaction while increasing selectivity towards the production of value-added energy carrier molecules?”

The Office of Research & Sponsored Programs at UOG assisted Limtiaco, who applied for DOE research funding for the first time.

“It was very encouraging to see him commit to this very important project for our island,” said Dr. Pamela Peralta Taitano, Director of Contracts and Grants, UOG.

$400K Ocean energy systems research

The Water Power Technologies Office at DOE also recently announced $400,000 in funding, initially for two years, that will be provided toward research at UOG to explore the potential for ocean energy systems (OES), such as ocean thermal energy conversion and wave energy technology, to power a proposed Guam Aquaculture Innovation Center.

UOG will partner with DOE’s PNNL and Sandia National Laboratories to assess the infrastructure requirements, environmental impact considerations and the economic and regulatory viability of deploying ocean energy systems in Guam.

During the initial two years, UOG research will look at obtaining more information to solidify a plan of action for the best option and implementation of a marine energy system, said David Patrick Crisostomo, aquaculture specialist with the Sea Grant Program.

Ocean thermal energy is a strong possibility because Guam has access to deep ocean water relatively close to shore, Crisostomo said. And there is also the possibility for wave energy to be used as a source of energy, he added.

“The long-term dream is an Aquaculture Innovation Center that is reliant on clean energy. The expansion of this dream is to add ocean thermal energy or other marine energy systems to Guam’s ability to produce clean energy for the entire island,” said Crisostomo.

Photo of Fleur de Peralta
Fleur de Peralta
Fleur de Peralta, Senior Advisor with the Risk & Environmental Assessment Group, Energy & Environment Directorate at PNNL, said:  “The diversity within the PNNL and UOG teams will strengthen the outcome of both projects as we adapt and learn from each other to gain valuable knowledge on the feasibility of harnessing hydrogen from Guam’s ocean waters and deploying ocean energy systems as additional sources of clean energy for the island.”