Developing wave-power converters

A research project aimed at developing hydroelectric wave-power converters could provide a significant boost to the UK’s future renewable energy plans.

In a five-year partnership with Queen’s University Belfast, Aquamarine Power intends to develop the next generation of wave-energy device for commercial use. The project builds on the company’s existing Oyster model, which utilises oscillating wave surge converter technology to generate electricity in depths of around 10-12m.

Martin McAdam, chief executive of Aquamarine, said: ‘We’ve already come quite far in the design of the second-generation device. Having fabricated the first device, we have learnt a lot about possible difficulties that we might encounter. Our focus now is to reduce the cost — we’re looking at different types of materials and ways in which to simplify the overall design so that it is easier to maintain and operate in the ocean.’

According to the company, the Oyster design provides more consistent energy by using near-shore waves to capture a higher percentage of power. Using only two main components — a wave-powered pump and an onshore hydroelectric power plant — the device is designed to be cheaper and easier to maintain that conventional systems.

The most significant departure to the initial model will be the device’s installation concept, which has been altered to feature a multiple array design. McAdam hopes that this will not only enhance its energy-capture capability but also improve ease of maintenance by providing a single removable cartridge from which failed parts can be removed remotely.

McAdam added: ‘From a materials perspective we will definitely be using concrete in the base frame. The design of the flap itself will also be different. The first-generation flap is fairly rudimentary and what we will be looking at is optimising the energy capture and minimising the energy losses through any current because of design faults such as sharp edges on the flaps.’

As well as providing technical support, Aquamarine’s collaboration with Queen’s University is expected to strengthen its testing capabilities by granting access to two large-scale wave-power tanks. These will allow the research teams to test multi-directional waves and realistically simulate a range of sea conditions in preparation of launching a full-scale model in the sea within the next few years.

McAdam said: ‘We would hope to have the device fully designed and constructed by 2012. By working with the team at Queen’s, we may be able to do this in a shorter time frame, as well as use their technical expertise to enhance our current design.’

Ellie Zolfagharifard