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Reza Alam, an assistant professor at US Berkeley and expert in wave mechanics, is designing a ‘carpet’ to be laid across the seafloor that will turn the energy from ocean waves into electricity.
“There is a vast amount of untapped energy in the oceans, and with increasing worldwide demand for power, the need to find cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels is critical. We are also seeing greater population growth along coastal cities, so the ocean-based system we are developing would produce electricity in a carbon-neutral way right where it is needed.”
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Marcus Lehmann, a researcher on the team, commented that one of the potential beneficiaries of this energy generating system would be desalination plants. Converting saltwater into fresh water requires heating the water and pumping it through filters, using huge amounts of energy. Using free, clean energy from the ocean could help desalination technology become more popular around the world.
Alam’s idea of using waves to generate electricity is not new. Carbon Trust released a report claiming that wave energy has the potential to provide more than 2,000 terawatt hours of electricity a year, around 10% of global needs. However by sitting it on the seabed it removes the visual impact, or the danger to boats and sealife, and even protects it from extreme surface weather. “Our system would work with no problem in stormy conditions because the water column above the carpet buffers the impact momentum of surging waves. In fact, our carpet is even more efficient when ocean waves are stronger.”
The device consists of a rubber carpet that moves up and down with the motion of the waves, this in turn pumps a series of cylinders, creating hydraulic pressure which is transferred ashore to be converted into usable energy.
The initial experiments at the wave tanks at UC Berkeley have shown promising results for the team, who claim to be able to absorb over 90% of the incoming wave energy and convert it into electricity. This has led to estimates that one square metre of the carpet system would be enough to power two average US homes, and that a 100 square metre section (just 10 metres by 10 metres) of the Californian coastline would generate the equivalent power output as an array of solar panels the size of a football pitch (6,400 square metres).
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com