The European Commission’s massive Wetfeet project aims at moving wave energy closer to commercial reality.
Proposals on how to harness wave power have been around for decades, but truly economical designs have proved elusive. Now the European Commission is funding a major project to establish how to overcome the obstacles to full commercial exploitation of the ocean waves.
“The Wetfeet project, funded under the eu’s Horizon 2020 Framework Program, addresses the major constraints that have been delaying wave energy’s progress by identifying and developing components, systems and processes to improve the sector as a whole,” says Soraya Hamawi, Project Manager at Wavec Offshore Renewables, the company that is leading the project.
“Wave energy technology has vast potential to fulfill part of the global demand for a clean and safe energy source so as to integrate the backbone of a secure energy system in the next few decades and contribute to the creation of jobs in the eu and worldwide,” Hamawi explains. “Furthermore, the potential of wave energy is estimated at 29,500 TWh per year.”
The 3.45 million euro project will look at a number of key issues. These include reliability of technological components, survivability capability of the devices, high development costs and the long process to commercialization, as well as industrial scalability of tested technologies. Such factors will be studied through two specific wave power or wave energy converter designs that are considered to be of near-term commercial interest.
The two energy devices in question are a floating oscillating water column and Symphony, a variable-volume submerged buoy that is based on a previous design developed by one of the project partners, Teamwork Technology. Hamawi notes that while there are many types of wave devices in development, “the problems they face are of a similar nature. This means that results of the project can and definitely should be transferred to other wave energy devices and the wave energy industry in general.”
As an initial step, an engineering analysis has been performed that has identified the way ahead. The next steps will focus on the conceptual breakthroughs that relate to ensuring the energy device can still survive and work even in storm conditions, developing appropriate operation and maintenance strategies and designing suitable power take-off technologies to generate electricity, along with novel materials for key components such as the structural membrane, control cocoon and negative spring. The project will also focus on a multidisciplinary assessment for large-scale deployment.
Flexible rubber membrane
One of the key elements in the design as a whole is the flexible rubber membrane. As a member of the Wetfeet consortium, Trelleborg is bringing its material technology expertise and vast experience in the design and production of large rubber products to create this membrane. The challenge will be ensuring that this component can live up to the large working pressures and the travel required to make the wave energy converter work effectively.
Jacco Vonk, Marketing and Business Development Manager within Trelleborg Offshore & Construction, explains Trelleborg’s interest in Wetfeet. “Our goal is to
be an engineering partner to the renewable energy sector,” he says. “We already have considerable experience in offshore wind energy.” Specifically, Trelleborg has polymer membrane technology that can be used in a range of sealing applications that are important for wave-power devices. Indeed, its membranes and seals are already being applied in tidal-, wind- and wave-power applications.
Although the project won’t be completed until 2018, Hamawi says, “as the results are known, the results and knowledge obtained in the Wetfeet project will be shared
with the wider community. Wave energy will for sure form part of the energy mix in the future if the issues delaying the progress of wave energy are properly addressed.”
The Wetfeet project is coordinated by Wavec Offshore Renewables. Its partners are Johannes Kepler University Linz, Plymouth University, Innosea, EDP Inovação, Selmar s.r.l., Instituto Superior Técnico, Teamwork Technology, Aurora Ventures Ltd.; Trelleborg, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and the University of Edinburgh.
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