Six teams of marine energy innovators strive to free their ocean-watching technologies from their tethers and set sail to test their recharging capabilities.
The multi-stage Fueling the Blue Economy: Price of Ocean Watching challenges competitors to integrate marine renewable energies into ocean observation platforms. The end goal? Designing tomorrow’s hurricane watches and protecting coastal communities from dangerous storms by revolutionizing the United States’ ability to understand, map, and monitor the ocean.
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, the Ocean Observing Award is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Sink or swim
Six teams emerged victorious in the Ocean Watching Award DESIGN competition and qualified for the BUILD contest.
Over the course of a year, competitors in the BUILD competition prepared to test their prototypes in the nation’s largest wave tank at US Navy maneuvering and sea-keeping basin in Carderock, Maryland in the summer of 2022.
From designs inspired by aquatic animals and mythical sea creatures to gliders, underwater vehicles and platforms, ocean observation technology is evolving from sketch to reality thanks to the hard work of these six teams.
Let’s dive a little deeper and learn more about the BUILD competition teams and their designs which include:
- by Kevin Lu eel drone, or Electrically Engage UnduLating system, from the Pyro-E team, which recovers energy by imitating the movement of eels. The device not only collects energy from waves and currents, but it also collects data on ocean conditions when 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 battery life.
- Platypus Prowler, a brainstorm from Mark Supal’s team, which is an unmanned underwater vehicle that carries a wave energy converter in its belly. The Platypus Prowler moves horizontally through the water as it collects data and monitors conditions for potential hurricanes. When it’s time to recharge, the device tilts up and surfaces to extend its arms and absorb wave energy.
- Thaumas, from the team of Alan Eustace, which is inspired by the marvelous sea god of Greek mythology. Designed to withstand long journeys, Thaumas relies on state-of-the-art technology to harvest wave energy 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 Maiden Wave Energy Rover, which rests on water and dances in the waves to harvest energy. The wave-powered rover is self-propelled, unmanned and carries a deployable instrument that measures ocean conductivity, temperature and depth. Designed with the rugged ocean environment in mind, the device can withstand the harshest sea conditions.
- Brought to you by the team of the same name from Tallahassee, Florida, the Wave-powered oceanographic glider is an autonomous underwater glider that uses wave motion to generate electricity and access, collect and transmit unique ocean data. Boosted by a propeller that allows for easy gliding and faster travel, the device can cruise comfortably across the ocean without consuming large amounts of power.
- Autonomous marine power system, an offshore ocean viewing platform called Persistence that is part buoy and part anchor. Developed by the ReVision team, the two-part tethered system harvests the energy generated by the relative motion between the two bodies as they are each buffeted by the waves. This energy is converted into electricity, which powers Persistence’s propulsion, control, and sensing subsystems.
Preparation of prototypes
Competitors are not alone in preparing for the tank test.
To help the Water Power Technologies Office and NOAA ensure competitors have the support they need, the BUILD competition deadline was recently extended to June 2022 and each of the six teams received additional funds. Sponsoring organizations also provide teams with mentorship and training to refine their designs and finalize their prototypes. For example:
- the New England Ocean Group leverages its network of blue economy professionals to mentor teams and help publicize the award
- Blue technology start-up sea ahead organizes training sessions for competing teams and supports dissemination of the award to cultivate the ocean-watching award community
- marine technology company DSA Ocean provided teams with a six-month license for their dynamic analysis software, ProteusDS, as well as training opportunities
- CDL Oceans offers business-focused mentorship to help competitors develop their scaling strategies and bring their innovations to market.
Make a SPLASH
Up to five winning teams from the BUILD contest will share a $500,000 prize pool and have the opportunity to take their devices from the test tank offshore in the final stage of the contest, the SPLASH contest.
Organized by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the SPLASH competition is scheduled to take place in the Olympic Peninsula off the coast of Washington State in the spring of 2023.
For this stage, the teams will refine their prototypes before evaluating the endurance and performance of their systems at sea in real conditions.
Up to three SPLASH contest grand prize winners will share a total prize pool of up to $1.5 million.
May these intrepid teams have favorable winds and following seas as they dive.
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