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Strathclyde projects win funding to unlock marine wave energy potential

Waves approaching the shoreline. Credit: Mario Guti

A project which takes inspiration from the fins of marine animals to design flexible material Wave Energy Converters is one of two led by Strathclyde to be awarded a share of £7.5m funding.

Researchers are developing and testing cutting-edge new wave energy technologies to help the UK achieve its Net Zero goal.  A total of eight projects, supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, will build on the UK’s leading role in marine wave energy to overcome challenges to develop devices that capture the energy generated by waves and convert it into a renewable source of electricity.

Ocean waves

Wave Energy Converters (WECs) transform the kinetic and/or potential energy of ocean waves into electricity. The Bionic Adaptive Stretchable Materials for Wave Energy Converters (BASM-WEC) study is a multi-disciplinary team led by Dr Qing Xiao from Strathclyde with Professor Sandy Day, Professor Feargal Brennan and Dr Saeid Lotfian from the Department of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Marine Engineering, Professor Iain Bomphray from the Lightweight Manufacturing Centre and Dr Liu Yang, from the department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. 

The three-year project will explore whether flexible materials inspired by the aquatic animals’ flexible body and fins could be used in WECs. Using such materials, the shape of which changes depending on the load applied to it, could help to overcome challenges to the commercialisation of existing rigid structure WECs, which can fail to perform efficiently and be vulnerable under harsh sea conditions.

The study, which received a grant of £975,000, has industrial partners including ORE Catapult Wave & Tidal Energy Sector, The National Subsea Research Initiative (NSRI), Wave-Venture in UK, SBM Offshore and the National Ocean Technology Centre in China.

The project will develop an analysis and laboratory testing integrity toolbox to reliably design, analyse, and process the state-of-the-art adaptive stretchable materials and structures applicable to WECs.

 Dr Xiao said:

There are several benefits in using a flexible material as part of WEC structures. The adaptive shape feature may allow the device to deform in extreme wave events, contributing to reductions of peak wave load and increases in device fatigue life, thus extending the device’s survivability compared with rigid body WECs.

“The flexible structure may also take advantage of the elasticity of the material which converts wave energy into electrical energy directly.”

Dr Xiao is also one of co-investigators the MoorWEC project, led by Professor Peter Stansby at Manchester University, which will model the impact of waves on various mooring options to generate key information to aid the design of resilient future WECs.

Device control

Professor Bill Leithead from Electronic and Electrical Engineering, is leading the HAPiWEC (Holistic Advanced Prototyping and Interfacing for Wave Energy Control) project, which received £987,000 of funding.  It will develop and demonstrate open-hardware and open-software tools and methodologies for the rapid, cost-effective and remote deployment of novel WEC controllers in state-of-the-art wave tank facilities. Improving device control could dramatically improve energy capture and the lifetime of WECs without the need for significant redesign.

Professor Leithead said: “The cost of energy from WECS depends on the effectiveness of their controllers. The innovative control methods that will be developed on this project and tested in the enhanced wave tank facilities, will enable the wave industry to drive down the cost of energy and spur further innovation in the UK.”

UK Energy Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “Our coastline and the power of the seas around us offers huge potential for clean renewable energy that can help us meet commitments to end our contribution to climate change by 2050.

“There are certainly unique challenges in harnessing the power of the marine environment and it is exciting to see how these projects can help us make the most of our natural resources in a cleaner greener future.”

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: “As a source of renewable power, marine wave energy would complement existing wind and solar technologies and help to provide a balanced supply.

“By overcoming challenges to effective marine wave energy technologies, the projects will help to unlock a valuable source of renewable energy and help the UK to achieve its Net Zero goal.”