Ocean currents are a very promising-looking source of renewable energy, but the technology for capturing ocean current energy and using it to create electricity hasn’t matured yet. However, that may soon change — a new ocean current harnessing system capable of working in deep waters has been developed by researchers at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, and a prototype has already been successfully tested.
The new experimental prototype — created within the framework of the PROCODAC-GESMEY project — has successfully met the goals of the researchers: it’s cheaper to construct, install, and maintain than current designs; it can produce the expected amount of energy; it can be maneuvered by remote control; it can operate in relatively deep waters; and it’s affordable enough for “a medium sized shipyard” to purchase, as the researchers put it.
The prototype — created in collaboration with the Astilleros Balenciaga company and the Fundación Centro Tecnológico Soermar — is one-tenth the size that a potential “industrial size” 1MW unit would be. The prototype is also accompanied by a newly designed underwater buoy capable of operating in areas of 40 meters of depth.
The Universidad Politécnica de Madrid explains the new design:
Today, to harness energy is an issue of interest, particularly those related to sea. The first generation of systems of harnessing energy from ocean currents was only feasible in areas of maximum depth of 30-50 meters (because the generators were joined at the bottom) and its maintenance was expensive. Consequently, second-generation systems came out: anchoring systems with diverse solutions that allow us a submerged operation with the possibility to put afloat the main elements for its maintenance. The tested prototype of the GESMEY project belongs to these second-generation systems.
The main unit of the prototype includes, as we can see on the image, a structure of stainless steel with a central body and three peripheral parts joined by arms. The generator, the multiplier, and the instrumentation system are inside while the rotor that captures ocean currents is outside.
During the development of the project, tests of integration and the tune-up were conducted in the LEEys Lab of the ETSIN and at the shipyard. They also conducted sea trials divided into tests of maneuvers and trailer. The project was complemented with a research on hydrodynamics and structures as well as maneuvers and energy control. These studies were embodied in various numerical simulations.
The researchers will next be working on the creation of a larger prototype with potential performance improvements.
While this new prototype/research is focused entirely upon harnessing the energy of ocean currents, there are actually quite a few ways to harness the incredible and renewable power of the ocean — waves, tides, salinity, temperatures, etc. It’s been estimated that as an energy resource, the world’s oceans could easily supply all of the energy currently used by humans many times over. Just something to keep in mind….
The new design is patented/patent pending, and the co-owner is the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid within a Framework Agreement signed between UPM and Soermar.