Interview: Moroccan start-up set to transform power supply of ports with wave energy
Born from the vision of two engineers, the Moroccan start-up Advanced Third Age Renewable Energies Company (ATAREC) has set its sights on exploiting the vast wave energy potential that exists around port breakwaters and other infrastructures exposed to sea, with its full-scale demonstrator already deployed and operating at the Port of Tanger-Med – one of the largest ports in Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.
Founded by Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi and Oussama Nour, two Moroccan engineers with a clear vision to create sustainable and green energy solution, ATAREC has developed its flagship wave energy device dubbed WaveBeat.
Seeing wave energy as more of an opportunity rather than a challenge, the engineers have designed their patented WaveBeat technology to capture the vertical variations in sea level using a free-floating buoy, turning the natural motion of water into sustainable and renewable energy.
“The development process of WaveBeat involved meticulous studies and design, followed by numerical simulations that allowed us to define the efficiency interval and encouraged us to continue the journey with a very promising performance indicators.
“After that, we moved to prototyping phase with our first partner – the Port of Tanger-Med Port – in the north of Morocco, which proved very challenging, but also allowed us to prove the performance.
“The fabrication of the prototype components was performed with the support of many partners around the world, followed by in site assembly, installation and continuous monitoring of the performance to ensure optimal functionality,” said Taha El Ouaryachi in an interview for Offshore Energy.
The development of the prototype, conducted during 2020 and 2021, was followed by the construction of a more advanced demonstrator, which is rated at around 7kW.
According to Taha El Ouaryachi, the focus here was to prove the entire electricity conversion system in real sea environment – including the power take-off (PTO) – featuring grid optimization functions, in addition to testing other proprietary characteristics of the WaveBeat technology.
The developers selected the Port of Tanger-Med, located 45 km northeast of the city Tangier on the Strait of Gibraltar, as the preferred location due to the support and long-standing relationship ATAREC formed with the port.
“We chose Tanger-Med port for many reasons, namely: our relationship with them have been developed during many years and we the confidence in them as our strategic partner – which is the key factor for the way forward.
“The other reason is that the port boasts around 110MW of wave energy available in front of vertical breakwater that fits exactly to the concept we developed. With the port’s support, the development is even easier as it provides us with all the necessary logistics and materials.
“Tanger-Med port is also a logistics and industrial hub, a huge port with a huge ecosystem that needs all the green energy it can obtain, as it adapts its activities to EU’s vision of CO2 emissions reduction required to be introduced in the next few years,” explained Taha El Ouaryachi.
Ports as the main focus for WaveBeat uptake with international expansion in plan
ATREC’s primary focus for its WaveBeat wave energy technology currently lies in providing sustainable energy solutions for ports and maritime infrastructure, as the technology is designed in such a way that makes it particularly well-suited for port environments, while being cost-competitive at the same time.
The company believes that starting with such market segments where wave energy is the most attractive is the most logical step at the moment, but the reach of ATAREC’s wave energy technology could be extended in the future.
“We recognize the broader potential of our technology. As we continue to advance and scale, we do envision the possibility of developing utility-scale devices for other facilities such as desalination, offshore platform, artificial Islands, and tourism facilities.
“This expansion aligns with our long-term goal of contributing to the broader renewable energy landscape and we believe that marine energy is the key to solve the problem of intermittence of other renewable energy sources,” said Taha El Ouaryachi.
The next step for ATAREC involves a strategic progression at several fronts. Namely, the company will continue to further advance and optimize its Wavebeat technology based on the insights gained from the ongoing demonstration, while trying to strengthen the links with its potential clients.
“This iterative process ensures that we continuously enhance the efficiency and reliability of our wave energy solutions and how we present it.
“Geographically, our focus remains on expanding our activities in the port sector, where the conditions are the most suitable. For that, we have three criteria: energy potential, incentives, and existing infrastructures.
“Aside from Morocco, where we have the access to good partners, the ports in Denmark, UK, West Europe and West Africa are the most attractive for us at this stage.
“Looking ahead, we have ambitious plans for international expansion, targeting other segments of the market. This stage will be unlocked once we improve our technology to ensure competitiveness and suitability in these areas,” noted Taha El Ouaryachi.
When it comes to combining its wave energy technology with other renewable energy sources, ATAREC is considering the potential combination with tidal current turbines that could improve the capacity factor of the technology, but that remains a long-term option.
Funding and lack of private-public partnerships as biggest challenges
Technology startups, especially those in emerging sectors, are in general a high cash burner, and take a lot of time to transition from the R&D stage to the revenue-generating enterprises.
Unfortunately, not many venture capital (VC) investors are willing to support these kinds of businesses, Taha El Ouaryachi pointed out.
“That why non-dilutive money and grants are very important to develop new technologies. In our case, we had the luck to be backed from day one by the Port of Tanger-Med, one of the biggest public companies in Morocco, so we had the logistics and resources, but all was in-kind support,” Taha El Ouaryachi said.
However, the startups need to have other sources of funding, with fundraising being one of the available options, which was already conducted by ATAREC.
“We had received in total over €900,000 between equity, grants and non-dilutive money, and now, we are currently working on many programs in order to get more funding and accelerate the development of WaveBeat as soon as possible, in parallel with the launch of our next fundraising campaign,” according to Taha El Ouaryachi.
One other way of addressing the funding issues in wave energy sector, as Taha El Ouaryachi suggests, is to form more partnerships between private and public sector to create a realistic business case, and improve limited access to public subsidies and grants.
Also, more collaboration inside the sector itself and better representation by industry associations and lobbying organizations is also one of the ways to raise the awareness of the benefits of wave energy and attract investors.
“I believe that initiatives such as Ocean Energy Europe, and projects like EuropeWave, should be duplicated and developed in other continents. We need to share experiences, we need to meet each other and encourage each other, and we need all the ‘brain and brawn’ to develop this crucial sector for solving on the biggest challenge of humanity – the climate change,” concluded Taha El Ouaryachi.
Subscribe and follow
Offshore Energy – Marine Energy LinkedIn