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A new biomimicry wave energy device inspired by kelp is ready for launch at Port Fairy, Australia -- don't get too excited, that's kelp not kale.

Clean Power

Biomimicry Wave Energy Device Ready To Leave The Nest

A new biomimicry wave energy device inspired by kelp is ready for launch at Port Fairy, Australia — don’t get too excited, that’s kelp not kale.

A new bio-inspired method of harvesting energy from the ocean has completed its shakedown on land, and now it’s finally ready for its first real test offshore. Called bioWAVE, the wave energy device won’t be venturing too far — Port Fairy in Australia is as far as it’s going — but we can hardly contain our excitement because we’ve been waiting 7 years for this moment.

BioWave wave energy schematic

A Bio-Inspired Wave Energy Device

BioWAVE first crossed CleanTechnica’s radar back in 2008, when we compared the new wave energy concept to kelp.

That might seem a little imaginative considering what the device actually looks like:

BioWave wave energy device

However, kelp is pretty much on the money in terms of biomimicry. The BioWAVE wave energy device was inspired by the way that kelp sways and pivots with the movement of ocean swell waves.

The bioWAVE actually gives you a twofer of potential and kinetic wave energy harvesting.

It consists of an array of floats that rise and fall with the up-and-down surface motion of swells, which accounts for the potential energy. The kinetic energy comes in under the surface, as the floats (or “blades”) sway back and forth.

The prototype pictured above is a 250 kilowatt model designed for operation at 30 meters, as a midway step to developing a one-megawatt commercial version for 40–45 meter depths. The eventual goal is to have entire farms of bioWAVE devices — like beds of kelp — linked together.

bioWave 2012 full res fri from Click2it on Vimeo.


From bioWAVE To Electricity

The tricky part is converting all that motion into electricity. The company behind the wave energy device, BioPower Systems (what else?), developed an on-board power conversion system it calls O-Drive.

As illustrated by the schematic at the top of this article, O-Drive is based on a high-pressure hydraulic fluid system, in which fluid is stored in a bank of accumulators. The accumulators literally accumulate the herky-jerky energy of the wave motion and release it in a steady stream to a hydraulic motor. The motor goes to a generator, and the generator cranks electricity into an undersea cable for transmission to the shore.

To pare down maintenance costs, BioPower has designed the O-Drive converter as a detachable module that can be hauled ashore for servicing.

As for inclement weather, when extreme seas threaten to damage the equipment, the bioWAVE floats are  designed to collapse automatically onto the safety of the sea floor.

To get a feel for what’s going to happen when the device is deployed later this year, you can catch the bioWAVE in action on Vimeo.

Whither Wave Energy?

Wave energy is a bit of a risky venture now that offshore wind energy is taking off, but the pursuit is worth it.

One key advantage of wave devices is their relatively low profile above the surface, and in the case of bioWAVE, no profile at all. That provides much more flexibility for site selection than offshore wind turbines, which can easily run into aesthetic obstacles.

In any case, the Australian government has faith. The bioWAVE project is partly supported by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)  and the government of Victoria.

This is a big year for ARENA, which is also behind the unique Perth wave energy project that launched in March.

Here in the US, wave energy is also getting a huge lift from us taxpayers in the form of a public-private shared test bed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii and funding from the Energy Department so group hug.

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Images (screenshots): Courtesy of BioPower Systems.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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