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A New Wave of R&D Investments in MHK Energy

Source: U.S. Energy Dept.

A rising tide of federal funding is accelerating development of technologies for harnessing energy from oceans and rivers.

The Energy Department has awarded more than $20 million for new research, development, and demonstration projects in marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy systems. The ten projects aim to improve the performance of MHK systems as well as monitoring technologies needed to protect wildlife and assess environmental impacts. This announcement builds on awards totaling $10.5 million awarded in December, 2015 and $7.4 million in August, 2015.

The Energy Department is targeting a vast potential to provide clean, renewable electricity, as outlined in its recent studies: “America’s technically recoverable wave energy resource ranges between approximately 900 and 1,230 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year…the tidal streams resource ranges between approximately 220 and 330 TWh per year.”

Three Open-Water Demo Projects

Three demonstration projects will integrate next-generation MHK hardware and software technologies into system designs. Their effectiveness will be tested during full-scale, open-water deployments over one year:

  • Dresser-Rand of Wellsville, New York, will integrate a one-megawatt air-turbine power system into the OceanEnergy oscillating water column wave energy device to double its power output.
  • Ocean Renewable Power Company of Portland, Maine, will integrated advanced component technologies to enhance the performance of its floating tidal turbine system. The system’s turbines operate near the surface to capture higher flow velocities, which also reduces the costs of installation and on-water operations.
  • Oscilla Power of Seattle, Washington, will integrate cost-reducing technology advancements into its Triton wave energy converter. Using tethered connections between a surface float and an underwater heave plate, the system harnesses multiple degrees of freedom for highly efficient energy extraction. Oscilla was one of the recipients of the December 2015 awards.

Seven Environment Monitoring Projects

In addition, seven projects will improve, test, and validate cost reductions in environmental monitoring equipment that will give the MHK industry a deeper understanding of interactions between MHK systems and the marine environment:

  • BioSonics Inc. (Seattle, WA) will develop an active acoustic monitoring system to automatically detect and locate wildlife at ranges up to 300 meters.
  • Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, FL) will improve the capabilities of existing light imaging, ranging, and detection toolset to improve marine animal observation in murky or low light conditions.
  • Integral Consulting, Inc. (Santa Cruz, CA) will develop and test a standardized mapping toolset and protocol for assessing seafloor habitat conditions.
  • Integral Consulting will also develop sensors to streamline the measurements of noise produced by body platform devices.
  • Similarly, the University of Washington (Seattle, WA) will optimize a drifting underwater microphone system to reduce the time and cost to measure noise produced by MHK devices.
  • University of Washington will also develop an integrated set of instruments for monitoring marine animal interactions with MHK devices.
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Woods Hole, MA) will adapt existing electromagnetic field sensors to help improve stability in waters near operating MHK devices, and to study if the electromagnetic fields pose risks to the environment.

Within the Energy Department, the Water Power Program is driving a wide range of MHK R&D efforts to prove functionality; evaluate technical and economic viability; and generate cost, performance, and reliability data. For a look at some of the Program’s efforts in R&D in this area, watch the Department of Energy’s video “Energy 101: Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy“.

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About David Smith (18 Articles)
Contributing editor David Smith is a writer and marketing consultant focusing on clean technology. He has held creative and marketing executive positions in technology companies and marketing agencies, and has a background in journalism and electrical engineering. He has consulted with emerging start-ups and Fortune 500 companies on market positioning, branding and communications strategies. An EV enthusiast, he has spoken on B2B marketing and social media at a variety of industry events.

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