Photo: Professor Richard Manasseh (Courtesy of the Swinburne University of Technology)

Australians explore using wave energy devices to protect vulnerable coastlines

Researchers from the Swinburne University of Technology are exploring the use of wave energy converters to absorb and reflect the damaging waves that hammer Australia’s vulnerable coastlines.

Professor Richard Manasseh (Courtesy of the Swinburne University of Technology)
Professor Richard Manasseh exploring how wave energy devices could help protect coastlines while producing clean power (Courtesy of the Swinburne University of Technology)

The $2 million project, supported by $436,000 in federal government funding through the Australian Research Council Linkage grant scheme, brings together Swinburne University of Technology, University of Adelaide and University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Developed in partnership with Victoria’s Moyne Shire Council and Western Australia’s Mid West Ports Authority, the three-year project will seek to understand how wave energy converters could switch between modes of protection and regeneration and the impacts this would have on costs and the local environment.

These wave energy converters, which are designed to be partially or completely underwater, extract renewable energy from the ocean that could be fed back into the grid as green electricity.

Richard Manasseh, project lead and professor of fluid dynamics, said the solution represents a win-win for local residents, government and industry.

Conventional barriers, like sea walls, have a permanent impact on the environment and are a sunk cost for taxpayers. By using a series of controllable wave energy converter units, we could use electricity sales to help pay back the costs involved, while reducing the risks of severe erosion and flooding.

“We can also minimize the impacts on the local ecosystem. With care, local biodiversity may be regenerated or even enhanced,” Manasseh said.

More than $226 billion of Australian assets are exposed to coastal erosion and flooding, with the cost to protect these assets expected to increase as the impact of climate change continues to be felt around the world.

Swinburne’s chief scientist Virginia Kilborn said the research shows the importance of partnering with industry to create sustainable solutions to complex problems.

By bringing people and technology together, we are creating a local solution that could have extraordinary global ramifications for energy production and the environment.

“As an organisation that is committed to being carbon neutral by 2025, Swinburne is proud to be working with the community to help drive this important work,” Kilborn noted.

Commenting on the project, Moyne Shire’s mayor Ian Smith, said: “As a council with a large coastline along the powerful Southern Ocean, we understand all too well the impacts of coastal erosion. We are proud to be partnering with Swinburne to research proactive solutions to this problem.”

Damian Tully, Mid West Ports Authority acting CEO, said: “With wave energy having significant impact on the operations at Mid West Ports, we are eager to work with Swinburne on this research project to identify options that could potentially have dual benefit to our coastline and the operating environment at the port.”