NREL’s wave-powered desalination device hits the water

Researchers from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have deployed the HERO wave-powered desalination test device offshore North Carolina and anchored it to the nearby seabed, marking the start of ocean trials.

NREL’s wave-powered desalination device hits the water
Credits to Andrew Simms; Source: NREL

With help from the Coastal Studies Institute, NREL deployed the hydraulic and electric reverse osmosis (HERO) wave energy converter (WEC) device from Jennette’s Pier, which sits on the shore of Nags Head beach.

Using a spider crane, the 714-pound device was hoisted over the pier’s railing, suspended about two feet above the water, and dropped into the ocean. The team then towed the device to its anchor site, where it was secured overnight before being retrieved.

NREL began designing the HERO WEC device in summer 2020 and finished building it this January. After a year of facing unexpected supply-chain challenges, the team found a chance to test the device in the laboratory just before shipping it to North Carolina for ocean trials.

“Getting to this point has required a lot of patience and perseverance, but that’s part of developing new renewable marine energy technologies,” said Scott Jenne, NREL’s marine energy systems engineering and techno-economic lead and principal investigator for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waves to Water Prize.

“Between building the device and finding a good-weather window in which to deploy, there were obstacles along the way, but we overcame those challenges and finally got the test device into the water.”

As NREL’s first marine-powered desalination device to weather real ocean waters, the HERO WEC deployment signals advancements for marine renewable energy and desalination technologies but also ensures a fair contest in the nearing Waves to Water Prize DRINK Finale, set to take place in April.

Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office and administered by NREL, the five-stage, $3.3 million contest aims to accelerate innovation in small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems capable of producing clean water in disaster and recovery scenarios, as well as in water-scarce coastal and islanded locations.

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With the prize guidelines in mind, NREL designed and built the HERO WEC device to help the entire crew better understand the competitors’ designs and installation requirements.

Five finalist teams – MarkZero Prototypes, Sea Potential, Oneka, Water Bros, and Project 816 – will travel to Jennette’s Pier in April.

In the finale, the competitors will demonstrate their wave-energy-powered desalination systems for the chance to win part of the $1 million cash prize pool.

After the finale concludes, the NREL team hopes to deploy the HERO WEC device again in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. With a second outing later this year, the device can spend more time in the water collecting data to further complete NREL’s research on small-scale WECs.

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