A wave energy technology is being developed that could help generate low-cost electricity for thousands of houses.

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Device could deliver wave energy to thousands

The device costs less than conventional designs, has fewer moving parts, and is made of durable materials.

It is designed to be incorporated into existing ocean energy systems and can convert wave power into electricity.

Small scale experiments in an ocean simulator show that one full-size device could generate the equivalent of 500kW, enough electricity for about 100 homes.

Engineers say that their design could be used in fleets of low-cost, easily maintained structures at sea within decades, to take advantage of powerful waves in Scottish waters.

Flexible membranes

Engineers from the University of Edinburgh and from Italy developed their device – known as a Dielectric Elastomer Generator (DEG) – using flexible rubber membranes.

It is designed to fit on top of a vertical tube which, when placed in the sea, partially fills with water that rises and falls with wave motion.

As waves pass the tube, the water inside pushes trapped air above to inflate and deflate the generator on top of the device.

As the membrane inflates, a voltage is generated. This increases as the membrane deflates, and electricity is produced. In a commercial device, this electricity would be transported to shore via underwater cables.

?Water tests

A scaled-down version of the system was tested in the FloWave facility at the University of Edinburgh, a 25m diameter circular tank that can reproduce any combination of ocean waves and currents.

The system could replace conventional designs, involving complex air turbines and expensive moving parts.

Learn more: Device could deliver wave energy to thousands

 

 

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New wave energy converters get competitive to help power the grid

Sandia National Laboratories water power engineers Giorgio Bacelli, left, Dave Patterson, center, and Ryan Coe with Sandia’s wave energy converter buoy. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Compared to wind and solar energy, wave energy has remained relatively expensive and hard to capture, but engineers from Sandia National Laboratories are working to change that by drawing inspiration from other industries.

Sandia’s engineering team has designed, modeled and tested a control system that doubles the amount of power a wave energy converter can absorb from ocean waves, making electricity produced from wave energy less expensive. The team applied classical control theory and robotics and aerospace engineering design principles to improve the converter’s efficiency.

During a multiyear project funded by the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, engineers from Sandia’s Water Power program are using a combination of modeling and experimental testing to refine how a wave energy converter moves and responds in the ocean to capture wave energy while also considering how to improve the resiliency of the device in a harsh ocean environment.

“We are working to create methodologies and technologies that private companies can harness to create wave energy devices that will enable them to sell power to the U.S. grid at a competitive price,” Sandia engineer Ryan Coe said. “By getting more energy out of the same device, we can reduce the cost of energy from that device.”

Advanced control of wave energy converters yields increased energy absorption

Sandia’s wave energy converter is a large 1-ton ocean buoy with motors, sensors and an onboard computer built at a scaled down size for a testing environment. Commercial wave energy converters can be large and are generally part of a group of devices, like a wind farm with multiple turbines.

“These devices can be in open ocean and deep water, maybe 50 to 100 miles off the coast,” Coe said. “An array of wave energy converters, maybe 100 devices, connected to an underwater transmission line would send the wave energy back to shore for consumption on the grid.”

To capture energy from the ocean’s waves, a wave energy converter moves and bobs in the water, absorbing power from waves when they generate forces on the buoy. Sandia’s previous testing focused on studying and modeling how the devices moved in an ocean-like environment to create a numerical model of their device.

Using the model they developed and validated last fall, the team wrote and applied multiple control algorithms to see if the converter could capture more energy.

“A control algorithm is a set of rules you write that prompts an action or multiple actions based on incoming measurements,” Sandia engineer Giorgio Bacelli said. “The sensors on the device measure position, velocity and pressure on the hull of buoy and then generate a force or torque in the motor. This action modifies the dynamic response of the buoy so that it resonates at the frequency of the incoming waves, which maximizes the amount of power that can be absorbed.”

The control system uses a feedback loop to respond to the behavior of the device by taking measurements 1,000 times per second to continuously refine the movement of the buoy in response to the variety of waves. The team developed multiple control algorithms for the buoy to follow and then tested which control system would get the best results.

“Controls is a pretty big field,” Sandia engineer Dave Patterson said. “You can operate anything from planes to cars to walking robots. Different controls will work better for different machines, so a large part of this project is figuring out which control algorithm works and how to design your system to best take advantage of those controls.”

Bacelli said that while the primary objective of the control algorithm is to maximize energy transfer between the wave and the buoy, the amount of stress being applied to the device also must be considered.

“Resonance also stresses the entire structure of the device, and to expand the longevity of the device, we need to balance the amount of stress it undergoes,” Bacelli said. “Designing and using a control system helps find the best trade-off between the loads and stress applied to the buoy while maximizing the power absorbed, and we’ve seen that our systems can do that.”

Theory becomes reality in the Navy’s world-class wave tank

Sandia National Laboratories robotics researchers Clint Hobart, left, Kevin Dullea, center, and Steven Spencer prepare the wave energy converter’s actuator for testing. (Photo by Randy Montoya) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Results from numerical modeling with the control algorithms showed a large potential, so the team took the converter to the U.S. Navy’s Maneuvering and Sea Keeping facility at the Carderock Division in Bethesda, Maryland, in August to test the new control methods in an ocean-like environment. The wave tank facility is 360 feet long and 240 feet wide and has a wave maker that can generate precisely measured waves to simulate various ocean environments for hours at a time. Sandia used the wave tank to simulate a full-size ocean environment off the coast of Oregon, but scaled down to 1/20th the size of typical ocean waves to match their device.

“The accuracy of the wave they can generate and the repeatability is outstanding,” Bacelli said. “The ability to recreate the same condition each time allowed us to conduct very meaningful experiments.”

The team ran a baseline test to see how the converter performed with a simple control system directing its movements and actions. Then they ran a series of tests to study how the various control algorithms they had designed affected the ability of the device to absorb energy.

“This year, the device can move forward, backward, up and down, and roll in order to resonate at the frequency of the incoming waves,” Bacelli said. “All degrees of freedom were actuated, meaning there are motors in the device for each direction it can move. During testing we were able to absorb energy in each of these modes, and we were able to simulate the operating conditions of a device at sea much more accurately.” In fact, the tests showed theory did match reality in the wave tank. The control algorithms were able to more than double the amount of energy the wave energy converters were able to absorb without a control system.

The team is analyzing the testing data and considering further options to refine the control systems to maximize energy transfer.

Learn more: Robotics principles help Sandia wave energy converters better absorb power of ocean waves

 

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Wave energy system powers a desalination plant that provides coastal cities with fresh water

Buoys float off the coast of Ilo, Peru, in a 2015 test of a wave energy system developed by the Santa Fe, New Mexico, company Atmocean with technical help from Sandia National Laboratories. The system powers a desalination plant that provides coastal cities with fresh water. (Photo courtesy of Atmocean Inc.)

Hurricane Katrina whipped up huge, powerful waves that caused severe destruction in 2005 along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Their size and strength convinced Phil Kithil of Santa Fe, New Mexico, there had to be a way to harness that energy.

His first thought was a device that would use wave action to pump deep, cold seawater to the surface to dampen the intensity of hurricanes, which thrive on warm water. He proved the concept with a simple tube and one-way valve attached to a buoy, but the idea had no commercial potential as hurricanes are unpredictable.

He thought of a second use because the wave-action pump also brought to the surface concentrated ocean nutrients such as phosphate and silicate that promote the growth of phytoplankton. “Phytoplankton take in carbon dioxide to metabolize nutrients and give off oxygen,” Kithil said. “We felt the pumps had a role to play in climate change mitigation.”

But, again, the business potential evaporated when governments participating in the 2009 United Nations Copenhagen Climate conference did not take action that would open carbon markets for the device.

The third idea was the charm. Kithil and his company, Atmocean Inc., founded in 2006, partnered with the Albuquerque engineering firm Reytek Corp. in 2010 to produce a pump system that uses wave power to send pressurized seawater onto shore where it is desalinated without the use of external energy. Kithil said the system has a simple design and can be set up cheaply and in rural settings to provide fresh water for drinking and farming in coastal cities.

Working with scientists at Sandia National Laboratories through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program, the two companies have tested and advanced the technology and moved it close to market by attracting significant investment. Atmocean recently signed a fourth NMSBA agreement. Small businesses can apply for help through the program once a year. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without Sandia’s help,” said Chris White, Atmocean’s chief operating officer. “It provided us with the backbone of validating our technical improvements so we could go forward.”

Small business program lends a hand with research and development

NMSBA is a public-private partnership among Sandia Labs, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the state of New Mexico that lets small business owners who have a technical challenge work with scientists and engineers at the national labs. Created in 2000 by the state Legislature, the program brings world-class technology and expertise to small companies and promotes economic development with an emphasis on rural areas. NMSBA has provided 2,648 small businesses in all 33 of the state’s counties with more than $53.3 million worth of research hours and materials.

“Many small companies don’t have the resources to do advanced research and development. NMSBA is a great way to give them an R&D hand,” said Jackie Kerby Moore, manager of Technology and Economic Development at Sandia Labs. “National laboratory expertise helps these people realize their dreams and build their businesses, a win-win for the economy.”

Kithil and Phillip Fullam, chief engineer of Reytek, first worked with Sandia Labs’ Rick Givler, a specialist in modeling physical systems, to assess the feasibility of their near-shore wave energy system. Givler proved that, using typical waves and a set number of seawater pumps, considerable pressurized water would reach an onshore reverse osmosis water purification system.

“We needed to know if we would get a dribble at the end or a gusher of pressurized water,” Kithil said. “Rick came up with the answer — a gusher. If it was a dribble we’d have no business. With a gusher we could estimate expenses and profit. That’s how important the Sandia research was. We could take an interesting idea to business feasibility.”

Sandia Labs’ findings have helped Atmocean attract about $3.5 million in investment to continue product testing, add staff and boost component manufacturing at Reytek. The company built full-size seawater pumps and tested the system off the coast of Oregon in 2011 and off Peru for six months in 2015. “The first Peru tests were a big success,” Kithil said. “Other small communities want to see if it will work for them.”

System to be deployed off Newfoundland for operational testing

Atmocean is working now with Sandia Labs engineer Tim Koehler on computational modeling of the wave energy system. Following trials in a test tank at the Texas A&M University Haynes Laboratory, the system will be deployed later in the year off the coast of Newfoundland for a third round of testing that will demonstrate the prototype in an operational environment.

Atmocean’s system is a 200-foot by 200-foot array of pumps floating on the ocean. “Each pump is a buoy on a piston,” Koehler said. “As a wave passes, the buoy ingests sea water, and as the buoy settles, it pumps seawater through hydraulic lines back to shore where it enters the zero-electricity desalination process.”

Water arrives onshore at about 180 psi, or pounds per square inch of pressure. Atmocean uses energy recovery devices — essentially spinning mechanical wheels — to boost 14 percent of the arriving seawater to 900 psi, the pressure needed to run reverse osmosis. The system is the size of a shipping container and is manufactured by Atmocean industry partners. “We supply the pressurized seawater and we work with standard industry-proven technologies on the desalination,” White said.

The system runs 24/7 and production depends on wave action. White said that in southern Peru, in typical ocean conditions, 50 million cubic feet of pressurized water is pushed to shore in a year. Fourteen percent of that is desalinated, producing 5 million cubic feet of fresh water annually that can be used for agriculture or consumption.

Kithil said the system is inexpensive to operate, offers local employment and helps the environment. “Each array of pumps creates a defacto marine protected area with artificial structures that see marine growth,” he said. “The system uses small boats operated by local fishermen who get consistent work. During our full-scale pilots in Peru in 2015, we saw a huge outpouring of support from the local fishing community.”

Ocean forces on buoys

Kithil and Fullam are working with Koehler to improve the pump design. “They want to know what forces the ocean, through the passage of waves, puts on the buoys, so they can optimize their performance and be as efficient as possible,” Koehler said. He is using computational fluid dynamics modeling to evaluate various buoy designs engineered by Reytek and narrowed down through wave pool tests. “I will give them an idea of ocean forces on various pump designs,” he said.

Koehler’s first foray into NMSBA has been eye-opening, he said. “It’s a different application than what I typically work on and uses different software, so it adds some breadth to my experience,” he says. “It’s been a good process in terms of my personal and professional growth. I’m learning more, and it’s nice to help a small business. I like the idea. It’s a good way to help rural communities with clean energy technology.”

After the final demonstration in Newfoundland, Atmocean, which presented the technology at the 2016 United Nations Solutions Summit, will seek a commercial partner. “If all goes well, we’re looking at a year-and-a-half after the tests to reach commercialization,” White said.

Learn more: New Mexico firm uses motion of the ocean to bring fresh water to coastal communities

 

The Latest on: Wave energy system
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Wave energy researchers dive deep to advance clean energy source

Sandia National Laboratories research engineers Ryan Coe and Giorgio Bacelli are collecting new information to optimize wave energy converter testing. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

Sandia National Laboratories research engineers Ryan Coe and Giorgio Bacelli are collecting new information to optimize wave energy converter testing. (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

One of the biggest untapped clean energy sources on the planet — wave energy — could one day power millions of homes across the U.S. But more than a century after the first tests of the power of ocean waves, it is still one of the hardest energy sources to capture.

Now, engineers at Sandia National Laboratories are conducting the largest model-scale wave energy testing of its kind to improve the performance of wave-energy converters (WECs). The project is taking place at the U.S. Navy’s Maneuvering and Sea Keeping facility at the Carderock Division in Bethesda, Maryland, one of the largest wave tanks in the world at 360 feet long and 240 feet wide and able to hold 12 million gallons of water.

Sandia project leads Ryan Coe and Giorgio Bacelli spend long days in the dark wave tank, where minimal lighting reduces the growth of algae in the water. They are collecting data from their numerical modeling and experimental research to benefit wave energy technology with improved methodologies, strategic control systems design and testing practices for wave energy converters.

“Our goal is to improve the economic viability of these devices,” said Coe. “In order to do so, we are working out ways to control the WEC’s generator to increase the amount of power it absorbs. At the same time, we are looking at how to reduce the loads and stresses on these devices in harsh conditions to ultimately lengthen a WEC’s lifespan in the water.”

Coe said numerous initial studies estimate that improving control of the WECs’ generators can dramatically increase energy absorption by as much as 300 percent. Transitioning these simplified studies to more realistic large-scale devices is the challenge at hand.

To control the dynamics for better, faster results in the wave tank, Coe and Bacelli are using modeling and control methods that have been successful in other industries, such as in the aerospace industry.

“The systems we used have been around for a while, but strangely enough they had never been applied to wave energy converters,” Bacelli said. “So far, we know the techniques we are using are more efficient and cost-effective than existing methods. We are getting more information in a fraction of the time.”

Now that Sandia has completed the first round of analyses in the water, Coe said the goal is to process all the collected data to develop a new, enhanced model that will make sure the next test yields even more valuable results.

“Make no mistake, these are extremely complex machines,” Bacelli said. “They have to be fine-tuned continuously because ocean waves are constantly changing. With this setup at the Navy’s facility, we have a unique opportunity to study the problems and quantify the effects. We want to help the industry by offering solutions to the challenges the wave energy world is facing.”

Learn more: Wave energy researchers dive deep to advance clean energy source

 

 

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A new project off the coast of Australia may make wave power a reality

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NO LAND stands between Antarctica and Australia’s west coast—just a vast ocean, rippled and rocked by the Roaring Forties.

For centuries these westerlies, which blow between latitudes 40° S and 50° S, powered ships sailing from Europe to Asia. These days, they are also creating waves in the world of renewable energy. At the end of February, a demonstration project designed to use the ocean swell they produce went live. As a result Australia’s largest naval base now gets part of both its electricity and its fresh water courtesy of the ’Forties.

Carnegie Wave Energy, in Perth, has been working since 1999 on what it calls CETO technology. Ceto was the ancient Greek goddess of sea monsters, and Carnegie’s particular monsters are buoys that resemble giant macaroons. They float a metre or two below the ocean’s surface, bobbing up and down in the swell and generating electricity as they do so. The current version, CETO 5, has a capacity of 240kW per buoy. Three of the beasts are now tethered to the sea bed 3km from HMAS Stirling, on Garden Island. They also help to run a desalination plant on the base, for fresh water is a valuable commodity in Western Australia’s arid climate.

The buoys themselves are 11 metres across, made of steel and filled with a mixture of seawater and foam to give them a density slightly below that of water, so that they float. Being submarine means that, unlike previous attempts to extract power from waves, they are not subject to storms and the constant battering that life at the interface between sea and air brings. As Michael Ottaviano, Carnegie’s boss, observes, savvy swimmers in Australia know to dive under—not through—an approaching wave, to avoid getting smashed. The same applies to buoys.

Even below the surface, though, the swell is enough to generate power. Each buoy’s rising and falling drives, as the diagram shows, a pump attached to the seabed at the bottom of that buoy’s tether. This pump pushes water through a pipe to a power station on Garden Island. There, the water’s pressure spins turbines that turn a generator. This arrangement produces about 5% of the base’s electricity.

The pressure can be put to a second use, too—to run a process called reverse osmosis, which removes salt from water. Osmosis happens when a solution of salt and a body of pure water are kept apart by a membrane permeable to water molecules, but not to the ions of which salt is composed. The resulting “osmotic” pressure on the water propels it into the brine through the membrane. Apply sufficient physical pressure to the brine, though, to overcome the osmotic pressure, and H2O will go the other way—which is a neat trick if you want to desalinate seawater.

Creating the necessary pressure requires a lot of energy. Reverse-osmosis desalination plants thus tend to guzzle diesel or electricity. But CETO 5 dispenses with all that. It delivers water at a high enough pressure for reverse osmosis to happen automatically. As a result, about a third of Stirling’s freshwater comes from desalination driven by wave power.

Carnegie aspires to bigger and better buoys it hopes will generate a megawatt each when launched in 2017. These versions, CETO 6, will be 20 metres across and will produce electricity inside themselves instead of at an onshore power plant. That means no pipe is needed; a submarine power cable will do instead.

Read more: A new project off the coast of Australia may make wave power a reality

 

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