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Biomimetic Ocean Power


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Biomimetic Ocean Power

Ocean power is a dark horse in the race for the future of energy--few people know much about it yet, but I predict it will be huge. I also love biomimicry, so I was delighted to discover BioPower Systems Pty. Ltd., a new company using biomimetic designs to generate power from the ocean. They have two main designs--the BioWAVE, which imitates kelp fronds, and the BioSTREAM, which imitates shark or tuna tails.

Both designs are meant to oscillate back and forth in ocean currents rather than rotating like a turbine, and they use a proprietary drivetrain to convert that low-speed high-torque oscillation into high-speed low-torque rotation of a permanent magnet motor. (No doubt a gearbox and a mechanical rectifier.) According to Worldchanging.com, oscillating instead of rotating makes them much less dangerous to sea creatures; the only possibility of harm to fish and other creatures is them getting smacked by a device, which is unlikely, since the waves that push the devices will also be pushing the fish in the same direction. Even the base that holds these devices to the ocean floor is biologically inspired in its design--rather than having a single beefy piling, it has many small “roots“ bolting it to the seabed. This way installing the system is easier and cheaper--it “does not require large specialized vessels or drill rigs due to the small gauge of each bolt.“

BioPower says the BioWAVE (kelp-like) generator captures the widest and deepest swath of wave energy of any device that does not require a huge rigid structure. It also rotates freely, so it automatically orients itself to the wave direction to maximize output. In storms, it can also lay itself flat on the ocean floor to avoid the extreme forces which would rip apart a rigid generator. (Or which would require a rigid generator to be massively overbuilt and more expensive.)

The BioSTREAM (tail-like) generator is basically an active weathervane, which changes its pitch to make the waves push it around. While not as big as the BioWAVE, it should be more efficient: they say “The motions, mechanisms, and caudal fin hydrofoil shapes of [shark, tuna, and mackerel] have been optimized by natural selection and are known to be up to 90% efficient at converting body energy into propulsive force.“ Presumably when you reverse it to convert the propulsive force of waves to energy, the efficiency is just as good. The BioSTREAM would also self-orient to the waves, of course, and in rough seas can “assume a streamlined configuration to avoid excess loading“. They say they are developing the system in sizes from half a megawatt to 2 MW.

At first I thought these systems would be great to adapt to wind power as well (avoiding the whole bird-killing problem, the main objection to wind power). However, both of these systems require the fluid they’re in to go back and forth--they use the power of waves, not the power of ocean currents. This is a fundamentally different ballgame than wind power.

In any case, it will be exciting to see where this goes. Their ideas are still just in the lab, but the company’s Dr. Timothy Finnigan says, “The company is now planning to conduct lab-scale model testing, and follow this with a full-scale ocean-based pilot program in 2008. Commercial units are expected to be available in 2009.“


The BioSTREAM (tail-like) generator is basically an active weathervane, which changes its pitch to make the waves push it around.

Edited by MallacootaPete
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Just found out the best part of this story.

BioSTREAM is owned by an Australian company called BioPower Sytems and

is being developed by an Aussie right here in Sydney.

So hopefully, we may all be benefiting from this in the future.

Let's hope their trials are successful.



This from their website http://www.biopowersystems.com/index.html

BioPower Systems Pty Ltd. is a renewable energy systems company. It was founded by Dr. Timothy Finnigan, a marine engineer at the University of Sydney and former Technical Director of Energetech Australia Pty. Ltd.

The company is developing new systems for both wave and tidal energy conversion. Experience has shown that traditional engineering methods are uneconomical when applied to ocean energy conversion. At the same time, natural biological systems have already optimised mechanisms for survival and energy-conversion in the marine environment.

In an application of biomimicry, which refers to the adaptation of biological traits in engineered systems, BioPower Systems has copied many of the beneficial traits from natural systems in the development of the new ocean energy conversion systems. The company is currently in the early stages, and technologies are undergoing proof-of-concept R&D, and commercial development.

Laboratory testing will be completed in 2007, and full-scale ocean-based prototypes will be tested in 2008. Commercial units are expected to reach the market by the end of 2009.

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Just doing some more research into this type of energy from the sea and there

are others that are pouring money into sea power generation.

Another is in Alaska which uses underwater turbines, similar to the wind powered variety.

New technology taps energy from ebb, flow of tides

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In the quest for oil-free power, a handful of small companies are staking claims on the boundless energy of the rising and ebbing sea.

The technology that would draw energy from ocean tides to keep light bulbs and laptops aglow is largely untested, but several newly minted companies are reserving tracts of water from Alaska's Cook Inlet to Makah Bay on the Olympic Peninsula to Manhattan's East River in the belief that such sites could become profitable sources of electricity.

The trickle of interest began two years ago, said Celeste Miller, spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The agency issues permits that give companies exclusive rights to study the tidal sites. Permit holders usually have first dibs on development licenses.

Tidal-power proponents liken the technology to little wind turbines on steroids, turning like windmills in the current. Water's greater density means fewer and smaller turbines are needed to produce the same amount of electricity as wind turbines.

After more than two decades of experimenting, the technology has advanced enough to make business sense, said Carolyn Elefant, co-founder of the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition, a marine-energy lobbying group formed in May 2005.

In the last four years, the federal commission has approved nearly a dozen permits to study tidal sites. Applications for about 40 others, all filed in 2006, are under review. No one has applied for a development license, Miller said.

The site that is furthest along in testing lies in New York's East River, between the boroughs of Manhattan and Queens, where Verdant Power plans to install two underwater turbines this month as part of a small pilot project.

Power from the turbines will be routed to a supermarket and parking garage on nearby Roosevelt Island.

Verdant co-founder and President Trey Taylor said the six-year-old company will spend 18 months studying the effects on fish before putting in another four turbines.

The project will cost more than $10 million, including $2 million on fish monitoring equipment, Taylor said.


"It's important to spend this much initially," Taylor said. "It's like our flight at Kitty Hawk. It puts us on a path to commercialization and we think eventually costs will fall really fast."

If all goes well, New York-based Verdant could have up to 300 turbines in the river by 2008, Taylor said. The turbines would produce as much as 10 megawatts of power, or enough electricity for 8,000 homes, he said.

With 12,380 miles of coastline, the United States may seem like a wide-open frontier for the fledgling industry, but experts say only a few will prove profitable. The ideal sites are close to a power grid and have large amounts of fast-moving water with enough room to build on the sea floor while staying clear of boat traffic.

"There are thousands of sites, but only a handful of really, really good ones," said Roger Bedard of the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit organization in Palo Alto, Calif., that researches energy and the environment.

"If you're sitting on top of the best scallop fishing in the world, you can't put these things down there," said Chris Sauer, president of Ocean Renewable Power in Miami. The two-year-old company is awaiting approval for federal study permits in Cook Inlet and Resurrection Bay in Alaska, and Cobscook Bay and the St. Croix River in Maine.

Other prime tidal-energy sites lie beneath San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and in Knik Arm near Anchorage, Bedard said.

Government and the private sector in Europe, Canada and Asia have moved faster than their U.S. counterparts to support tidal-energy research. As of June 2006, there were small facilities in Russia, Nova Scotia and China, as well as a 30-year-old plant in France, according to a report by EPRI.

"I expect the first real big tidal plant in North America is going to be built in Nova Scotia," said Bedard, who led the study. "They have the mother of all tidal passages up there."

The industry is coalescing over worries about dependence on foreign oil, volatile oil prices and global warming. Many states have passed laws requiring a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources, and tidal entrepreneurs think they will be looking to diversify beyond wind and solar power.

Elefant said the industry is still trying to figure out how much energy it will be able to supply from tides, as well as waves.

"While ocean energy may not power everything in the U.S., it will be functioning in tandem with other renewable resources and supplement other sea-based technologies," said Elefant, a lawyer in Washington D.C.

In the United States, wave-energy technology is less advanced than tidal and will need more government subsidies, Bedard said, however, the number of good wave sites far exceeds that of tidal. Wave-power collection involves cork or serpentlike devices that absorb energy from swells on the ocean's surface, whereas tidal machines sit on the sea floor.

Tidal-energy technology has been able to build on lessons learned from wind-power development, while wave engineers have had to start virtually from scratch, Bedard said. But a few companies are working aggressively to usher wave power into the energy industry.

Aqua Energy could start building a wave-energy plant at Makah Bay in Washington state within two years, said Chief Executive Officer Alla Weinstein. Another wave plant, whose backers include major Norwegian energy company Norsk Hydro, is under construction off the coast of Portugal.

Miller, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said the commission has received applications for three wave-energy permits in Oregon, all filed since July.


Verdant Power shows a preproduction model of the company's electricity-generating water turbine, mounted above ground for testing, at an assembly facility in Troy, N.Y.

Edited by MallacootaPete
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