RIDING THE WAVE: Travis Tucker, an engineer at Electro Standards Laboratories, performs a preliminary in-water buoy testing for a project on wave-energy generation being done in collaboration with the University of Rhode Island. The test was done at the URI Bay Campus in Narragansett.
COURTESY ELECTRO STANDARDS LABORATORIES
By Rhonda J. Miller PBN Staff Writer
It seems natural in the Ocean State that engineering companies and university researchers would sooner or later zero in on the mission to harvest energy from waves in the sea.
Movement toward that tantalizing goal of producing wave energy is already in progress through collaboration between Electro Standards Laboratories in Cranston and the University of Rhode Island.
Looking to take advantage of the potential of waves off the southeastern Massachusetts coastline, research is also underway at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
Initial projects are small in terms of the amount of energy expected to be created from the movement of water, and that’s partly based on two major obstacles.
The first is money, or more specifically, lack of it.
“Our grant money is running out,” said Raymond Sepe Jr., vice president of research and development for Electro Standards Laboratories, which got some federal funding, in partnership with URI, through the Small Business Innovation Research program.
Electro Standards Laboratories is collaborating with URI professor Stephan Grilli, who told Providence Business News in an email from France, where he is on sabbatical, “We have a proven design and we need funding to move to the next stage.”
The second major challenge is where the devices to be produced would be located.
“When you put equipment like this where there are lots of waves, it’s good because you can capture wave energy, but it also tears up the equipment,” said Daniel MacDonald, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s department of estuarine and ocean science. “It’s difficult to build equipment that can hold up in the ocean.”
Research at UMass Dartmouth began three years ago with a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which was awarded the project through the university’s Marine Renewable Energy Center.
The regional teams working to capture and unleash the power of wave energy are focused on small projects that they view as foundations for possible larger energy-producing capabilities for the industry in the future.
Engineers at Electro Standards Laboratories have been working with energy and power for some time, but teaming up with URI to integrate their generators with a buoy to harvest energy from the ocean is a public/private partnership that’s promising in terms of innovation and long-term economic growth, said Sepe, an electrical engineer.