Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slow Water Current for Renewable Energy?

New technology developed by a University of Michigan engineer can turn vibrations in water into clean, renewable energy. This machine is named VIVACE ( Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy). It is the first known device that is capable of drawing energy from most water currents around the world, according to a statement from the University of Michigan. “There won’t be one solution for the world’s energy needs,” VIVACE developer Michael Bernitsas, a professor at the U-M department of naval architecture and marine engineering, said in the statement. “But if we could harness 0.1 percent of the energy in the ocean, we could support the energy needs of 15 billion people.”

Biomimicry played a role in the design of this system,
Bernitsas and his team have tried to duplicate the roughness of fish scales on their cylinders because a rough cylinder surface could increase the power output by 40 to 70 percent compared to a smooth surface. Bernitsas is also impressed with fish tails. His team has begun to experiment with passive tails that could keep vortexes from interfering with each other.

Currently Bernitsas’ group is working with the U.S. Navy to install two VIVACE systems in the next year: one in the Detroit River and another in an ocean environment somewhere.

Although the production of VIVACE systems in commercial plants is still a future dream, the cost of electricity from a mature VIVACE installation would be roughly 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is similar to the current price of wind generation. Roger Bedard, EPRI’s ocean energy leader is of the opinion that with the passage of time, slower tidal passages will become economical.


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