Wave Energy Carpet Needs Help To Roll Out

A wave power converter inspired by the way muddy seabeds dampen surface waves – taking up their energy – is turning to crowdsourcing as researchers attempt to move their concept from the laboratory to ocean waters.

The project, out of UC Berkeley, isn’t radically different from other concepts we’ve seen (and we’ve seen a lot of them). Like Carnegie Wave Energy’s CETO device being developed down in Australia, the goal is to use near-shore waves to pressurize water and send it ashore through a pipeline, where it can drive hydroelectric turbines and/or undergo desalination – and, similarly, the Berkeley device counts being placed on the seafloor, out of sight from shore and out of the way of boats, as an advantage.

wave energy carpet uc berkeley

Testing the concept in the lab. (image via UC Berkeley YouTube video)

The difference here is that instead of using submerged buoys moving back and forth in the surging water to harness power, the Berkeley team uses a device that mimics the sea floor (thus the name “wave carpet”). So a thin length of material sits on top of hydraulic actuators, cylinders and tubes, and as the material – the carpet – moves up and down in the waves, it pumps the cylinders, creating the hydraulic pressure to move the water ashore.

The wave carpet popped into the news back in 2012 when it was still pretty much a theoretical concept, but the researchers, led by assistant professor Reza Alam, say wave-tank experiments in Berkeley have proved the concept. From UC Berkeley:

Alam estimated that one square meter of a seafloor carpet system could generate enough electricity to power two U.S. households. He added that wave energy from just 10 meters of California coastline, or about 100 square meters of a seafloor carpet, could generate the same amount of power as an array of solar panels the size of a soccer field, which covers about 6,400 square meters.

The researchers are aiming to have a pilot project deployed in 2016, but to get there they first need to develop a scale prototype – a 1:25 model – and figure out exactly what materials will work best in the ocean. So they’re using the Microryza crowdfunding site – think of it as Kickstarter for science projects – to try to raise $9,622. Their video presentation is immediately below, and you can check out the whole pitch here.

Can We Harness Ocean Waves to Power Your Home? from Microryza on Vimeo.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.