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The Dutch Center for Sustainable Water Technology or Wetsus, and Norway's independent research organization SINTEF, working with power company Statkraft, have invented devices that generate electricity by mixing sea and river water.
It might seem like an exercise in scientific theory destined only for high-tech laboratories, but the process' creators and the European Union, which funds the Norwegian research, believe the idea's time might have come.
"It's a renewable source which does not cause any environmental damage and we think it can play a big role in helping meet our target to increase renewable energy," he said.
But researchers in Norway and the Netherlands, known for their water technology know-how, say there is room for other alternatives given the world's ever-growing appetite for energy.
The new devices are based on a natural process -- when a river runs into the ocean, a huge amount of energy is unleashed because of the difference in salt concentration.
"It's basically harvesting the energy that comes free from a natural process," Wetsus managing director Johannes Boonstra said in his agency's laboratory in the Dutch town of Leeuwarden.
"You have the fuel for free and it's very sustainable -- no greenhouse gas emissions."
The two projects use different methods to harness the electricity -- the Dutch apply something called reverse electrodialysis while the Norwegians use a kind of osmosis.
Both methods rely on membranes or thin films made of special material used for chemical separation. In the Dutch project, separation is done by membranes using an electrical current.
The principle behind the Norwegian device is that fresh water and salt water are channeled into a membrane module. The fresh water is transported through the membranes and over into the pressurized sea water. The pressurized mixture of sea water and fresh water flows out of the module and into a hydropower turbine that generates electricity.
The two inventions, however, have still a long way to go before they can be applied commercially.