A new wave power system generates energy by absorbing the force produced by underwater movement at the bottom of the sea.
Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley drew their inspiration for the technology from the propensity for muddy seabeds to better absorb the impact of violent waves during heavy storms.
Fishermen plying their trade in the Gulf of Mexico have long adopted the precaution of making haste for those parts of the ocean with muddy bottoms during intense storm activity.
The reason for this is that the softer consistency of a muddy seabed is better capable of diminishing the intensity of strong waves by absorbing the force of their impact.
Taking their cue from this phenomenon, the technology developed by UC Berkeley scientists consists of a “carpet” which is capable of using the heavy impact generated by ocean waves at the level of the sea floor to produce energy for human usage.
The carpet consists of a rubber mat which overlays a system of hydraulic actuators, cylinders and pumps. When positioned on the sea floor, the movement of approaching waves will cause the rubber mat to oscillate vertically, which in turn creates hydraulic pressure in the underlying cylinders. This hydraulic pressure can then be conveyed back to the shore for conversion into energy for human usage.
Testing of the system by UC Berkeley scientists has demonstrated that the carpet possesses remarkable energy conversion capabilities, with the ability to absorb over 90 per cent of the power contained by a wave.
According to the results of their tests, a single square metre of the wave power carpet should be capable of generating enough energy to cater for the needs of two US households. The amount of power generated by 100 square metres of carpet would be on par with that produced by a soccer field laden with solar panels, covering an area of 6,400 square metres.
In addition to its prodigious power generation capabilities, the UC Berkeley scientists tout the technology’s durability and adaptability as core advantages.
The system is fashioned from supple, corrosion-resistant materials which should render it capable of withstanding storm-force waves when installed in shallow coastal waters at a depth of around 18 metres.
It is also convenient to transport, and lends itself to scaling either up or down in width as a result of its modular design.
UC Berkeley assistant professor of mechanical engineering Reza Alam said the team of scientists plans to commence testing of the system in an actual ocean environment within the next two years, with a long-term goal of deploying it commercially in under a decade.
The Berkeley team is now seeking funds from the public via crowdfunding site Experiment for the next stage of the project, which will involve the construction of a larger prototype for testing.