Monday, 23 April 2007

Irish wave energy project buoyed by successful trials

AN IRISH company which has developed a revolutionary wave energy device is poised to capture a massive slice of the sector’s €200 billion global market.

Ocean Energy Ltd, based in Cork, is about to ramp up its multi-million euro product development following successful sea trials in Galway Bay of its OE Bouy wave energy convertor.

A quarter-scale model of the device, designed to harness the power of the sea, was moored a mile offshore, near Spiddal, on Christmas Day, and survived some of the roughest storms in almost 20 years.

Designed to cope with swells of five metres, it was battered by regular storm surges with waves measuring up to eight metres.

A force 11 storm on New Year’s Eve swamped the device with waves peaking at 8.2 metres.

Despite the extreme conditions, the scale model remained intact and passed all its tests with flying colours, company director, Mick Whelan said.

“About 2.2 million pieces of data were analysed proving the viability of the device,” he said.

The successful trials mean Ocean Energy can now move on to phase two of the development — installing turbines on the device to generate electricity.

The company was founded in 2002 by Michael Whelan and John McCarthy.

Mr Whelan has over 30 years of experience working in an offshore environment as a commercial diver and salvage expert operating his own towing and salvage company.

Mr McCarthy is an accountant by profession, with previous experience in the field of renewable energy.

“We want to put Ireland on the map for renewable energy. We want to be at the forefront of renewable energy technology,” Mr Whelan said.

“The potential spin-off in terms of jobs and wealth creation is incredible.”

The next phase of testing will begin in the coming weeks. Power output from the turbines will be measured over a period of about four months.

Mr Whelan said he is hopeful that they can move on to the production of a full-scale model before the end of the year.

The concept has been developed over the last two years by Ocean Energy in partnership with the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre (HMRC) at University College Cork.

HMRC director, Dr Tony Lewis, praised the company’s slow and steady approach.

“Other companies around the world are engaged in this kind of research,” he said.

“But they are not testing each stage of development properly and now they are encountering problems that cannot be easily resolved.

“This project has completed a painstaking process of research and development to get us to where we are today.”

Mr Whelan said that a full-scale model, measuring 40 metres and weighing 650 tonnes, could generate enough energy to power 500 homes at peak.

How it works
The buoy is moored on the surface of the ocean, in areas where the water is between 30-50 metres deep, with a large horizontal tunnel below the surface.

Water pressure in the tunnel forces a column of water up into a vertical duct.

As the wave motion rocks the device, the water in the duct rises and falls, forcing air at speed out through a turbine.

The air spins the turbine’s fans which in turn generate electricity.

The power is transferred back to shore via underwater cables.

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