Six teams of marine energy innovators have advanced from the design to the build contest in the Ocean Observing Prize.
A joint effort of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Integrated Ocean Observing System, this multistage prize is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The Powering the Blue Economy: Ocean Observing Prize challenges competitors to integrate marine renewable energy into ocean observation platforms. The goal is to devise hurricane-monitoring devices and protect coastal communities from dangerous storms by advancing the U.S.’ ability to understand, map and monitor the ocean.
Contest competitors have been preparing to test their prototypes in the wave tank at the U.S. Navy’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Carderock, Md., this summer. The six teams, and their designs, are:
Kevin Lu’s EEL Drone, or Electrically Engage UnduLating system, from the Pyro-E team, which harvests energy by mimicking the movement of eels. The device collects energy from waves and currents and gathers data on ocean conditions as it looks for signs of hurricanes. The team hopes to expand the drone’s ability to collect ocean data by improving the device’s battery usage and its self-sufficiency.
Platypus Prowler, from Mark Supal’s team, is an unmanned, underwater vehicle that carries a wave energy converter in its belly. The Platypus Prowler travels horizontally through the water as it collects data and monitors conditions for potential hurricanes. When it is time to recharge, the device tips upward and surfaces to spread out its arms and absorb energy from the waves.
Thaumas, from Alan Eustace’s team, takes inspiration from the sea god in Greek mythology. Designed to support lengthy journeys, Thaumas leverages technology to harvest energy from waves to power onboard sensors that collect ocean data. The device’s software allows it to communicate with other vehicles and satellites while analyzing real-time data.
Maiden Wave Energy LLC’s Maiden Wave Energy Rover sits atop the water and bobs in the waves to harvest energy. The wave-powered rover is self-propelled, unmanned, and carries a deployable instrument that measures the ocean’s conductivity, temperature and depth.
Submitted by the Tallahassee, Fla., team of the same name, the Wave Powered Oceanographic Glider is an autonomous underwater glider that employs the surge motion of waves to generate electricity and access, collect and transmit ocean data. Boosted by a propeller that enables easy gliding and faster travel, the device is intended to sail through the ocean without consuming large quantities of energy.
Autonomous Marine Power System is an at-sea ocean observing platform called Persistence that is one part buoy and one part anchor. Developed by the ReVision team, the tethered two-part system harvests energy generated by the relative motion between the two bodies as they are each rocked by waves. This energy is converted into electricity, which powers Persistence’s propulsion, control and sensing subsystems.
To help the WPTO and NOAA ensure competitors have the support they need, the build contest deadline was extended to June and each of the six teams was awarded additional funds. Sponsoring organizations are also providing teams with mentorship and training to refine their designs and finalize their prototypes.
Up to five winning contest teams will share a prize of $500,000 and have the opportunity to take their devices from the test tank to the open sea in the final stage in the competition, the so-called splash contest. Hosted by PNNL, the splash contest is scheduled to take place in the Olympic Peninsula off the coast of Washington State in the spring of 2023.
For that stage of the contest, teams will be asked to refine their prototypes before evaluating the endurance and performance of their systems under real-world conditions. As many as three grand prize winners will share a prize pool of up to $1.5 million.