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Wave Energy Looking for Breakthrough — Using Aerospace Design

The oceans seem like a great potential source for clean energy. The force of the waves, the constancy, the size of the oceans — it all seems like something that could produce energy for humans without much harm. (I still have some concerns, though it seems like one of the best options these days). Some of the major problems with utilizing the force of the oceans, however, have been how to survive storms, the need to be anchored to the see floor, and efficiency.


Researchers from the US Air Force Academy have a new, outside-the-box idea for dealing with these problems — use an aerospace approach.

This is yet to be developed to full-scale and tested in that form, but early computer and model-scale tests are showing higher efficiencies than wind turbines, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

So, how does the system work? The NSF writes: “The system is designed to effectively cancel incoming waves, capturing their energy while flattening them out, providing an added application as a storm-wave breaker.”

Stefan Siegel, lead researcher for this project, says that he and his colleagues have been doing basic research on the use of sensors and adjustable parts for controlling the flow of wind around airfoils (like wings) for years. One day, a colleague read an article on wave energy and had the thought that they could use these same type of “feedback control” concepts for wave energy devices.

“Every airplane flies with lift, not with drag,” says Siegel. Furthermore, he says: “Compare an old style windmill with a modern one. The new style uses lift and is what made wind energy viable–and it doesn’t get shredded in a storm like an old windmill. Fluid dynamics fixed the issue for windmills, and can do the same for wave energy.”

The cancellation process the new technology uses will also allow the systems to use float-mounted devices rather than needing mooring, allowing the systems to be used in the deep-sea more where there is much more wave energy potential that is essentially out of the reach of current technologies.

This new technology is scheduled to be presented at the 62nd annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics on Nov. 24, 2009, in Minneapolis, Minn.

Additionally, as the NSF reports, only a small-scale version of this system has been tested, but a large-scale version is scheduled for testing next year at the NSF’s Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) tsunami wave basin at Oregon State University.

For more details on the scientific details of this wave energy technology, visit the NSF’s “On the Crest of Wave Energy” news release.

via ScienceDaily & the NSF

Related Stories:

1) WaveRoller Uses Swinging Door for Underwater Wave Energy

2) Underwater Kite Harnesses Ocean Energy

3) Australia Gets Wave Power Inspired by Oil Rig

Image Credit 1: matt.hintsa via flickr under a Creative Commons license

Image Credit 2: prgibbs via flickr under a Creative Commons license

Image Credit 3: prgibbs via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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