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June 10, 2014
By Mason Walker
The state’s rugged coastline and rough waters offer an ideal condition to test durability and energy generation potential for new devices. It’s also home to the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, a world-class research facility operated by Oregon State University.
Despite the coast’s promise, wave energy projects have experienced a series of fits and starts over the past few years as “traditional” power buoy deployments have struggled to launch.
Now, two new test projects are eyeing Oregon’s choppy waters with novel approaches to harvesting the impressive — and consistent — power of the ocean.
Oregon-based M3 Wave is gearing up to test a small version of its “acrylic pillow” system, a device that sits on the ocean floor. The device consists of two bladders connected by a tube. As waves roll over the device, air is pressed back and forth between the bladders, spinning a turbine in the connecting tube. The turbine generates electricity, which is then sent back to shore.
M3 plans to test a small prototype of its system in late summer of early fall.
The second project is also looking to the ocean floor. A team of engineers at University of California-Berkeley is developing a “carpet” device that mimics the mud layer found below the water’s surface along some coastlines. As waves move, the device rises and falls, driving pistons located underneath. While the team hasn’t confirmed a testing location, Oregon is a likely candidate. The group is aiming to pilot the technology within the next two years.
Both projects tout the advantages of wave energy systems that operate on the sea floor.
“The benefit of having a system underwater is that there is minimal visual and physical impact on boats and sea life,” said Reza Alam, an assistant professor at UC-Berkeley and a wave mechanics expert.