It has been 15 years since Tony van Sprang, owner of Omega Engineering, developed the 'Ocean Water Assisted Cooling' (OWAC) technology. It uses surface water from the sea to cool buildings in the tropical region and has been successfully used in Curaçao for over 9 years. It is used, among others, at hotels, airports, hospitals, shopping centers, and offices and achieves a reduction in energy costs for building cooling by up to 75 percent.
By now, the OWAC technology has already received international recognition and has been awarded three prizes between 2017 and 2023, including 'Energy Engineer of the Year' for the Caribbean/Latin American region. Now Tony and his companion René van Zijp are looking at what other directions they can take with the technology. An important market that Tony and René are thinking about, and where OWAC could have the greatest impact, is the agricultural sector.
To quickly summarize, OWAC absorbs surface seawater and passes it through the underlying system via its 'hyper-efficient chiller.' This sustainable technology and method works based on ionization and does not use any chemicals in the process. A secondary water circuit is then used to cool buildings, after which the slightly warmed seawater returns to the sea.
This ionization process is important when it comes to returning the water to the sea and is one of the many components of bio-pollution control technology used. You could say that it temporarily paralyzes the bio-organisms, and when returned to the sea, the organisms get going again. Nothing dies, and as mentioned, no harmful chemicals are added. The moving parts of the chillers designed by Omega Engineering also work on the basis of magnetism instead of oil.
The agrisector on the islands
Over the years, there have been several initiatives to make the agricultural sector in the Caribbean more attractive and efficient. However, the warm climate of the region poses a challenge for greenhouse construction, and the scarcity of water on the islands, as well as the extremely calcareous groundwater, exacerbates these limitations. To be self-sufficient with such specific constraints, efficient water and cooling systems are essential.
Cooling the greenhouses not only helps against the heat, but the temperature difference between inside and outside also creates a condensation cycle in the greenhouse that can be used to feed crops. This would solve a large part of the food problem on the islands, and they could go from an expensive import to a comfortable export position. The price of fresh vegetables in supermarkets could also be lowered so that people can get healthy food for an acceptable price, something that, according to René, has been playing an increasingly more important role on the islands.
The Dutch focus on energy transition
On Thursday, October 19, René spoke to TNO in Curaçao, where he was invited to discuss what they can contribute to the energy transition. But the conversation with TNO revealed something that René had long since noticed before: the focus in the Netherlands is very much on generating energy. But according to René and Tony, that is nothing short of a fallacy.
"Yes, you have to generate energy from natural sources such as wind and sun, but these are not always available, even here on the islands. You'd still need other fuels. This may never disappear completely, but it doesn't necessarily have to, as long as you do your best to make your planet a little better. For example, suppose you need 1 megawatt of energy. You can try to generate that 1 megawatt in a sustainable way, but with smart savings, you can also turn that 1 megawatt down to 0.5 megawatt. Then you have to generate less, and the amount becomes a lot more accessible to generate sustainably."
However, when the greenhouses with OWAC's cooling technology were discussed during this conversation, René couldn't help but notice that there suddenly was a lot more enthusiasm in the room. "I have the impression that we will soon move on to many more projects on the island, and perhaps also with this project, which could also be subsidized based on TNO research and advice."
Next steps in the Caribbean
"The idea is to have a greenhouse complex in the southern and northern Caribbean. We have already come a long way in executing this in the northern Caribbean, on St. Eustatius. For the southern Caribbean, it was either going to be Curaçao or Aruba for us, but I see a lot of potential in Aruba, where two ministers recently stood up on their own initiative and pushed for the signing of an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding)."
The ministers in question are Ursell Arends and Geoffrey Wever, who now want to work with Omega Engineering to find out whether the use of OWAC on the island is viable. The government would mainly facilitate this and not become a partner in the projects in order to maintain a neutral position without conflicts of interest. "So you could say we went from red tape to red carpet."
"My next step in this project is to speak with the agricultural organizations in Aruba. We want to introduce our concept to them because we don't want to ignore the local growers in all of this. They must be able to get involved in this initiative, which is why we also plan to train people so that they can use the technology in an optimal way. We really want to do it with everyone, and we mean literally with everyone on the island."
The implementation of OWAC not only creates new employment opportunities but also provides opportunities for the youth to explore a career in agriculture. Omega Engineering is currently busy talking with two Dutch companies to join the initiative, which will then mainly serve as a training function for local growers.
The discussions with the growers in Aruba will most likely take place at the end of November, after which there will be more clarity about the future of OWAC in Aruba and in the agricultural sector in general.