Photo: Illustration Courtesy of PSU)

U.S. researchers gearing up to test electromagnetic wave energy device

Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding, the researchers at Portland State University (PSU) are preparing to test and validate a new type of electromagnetic device that turns ocean waves into a source of renewable energy.

Variable stiffness magnetic spring test setup (Courtesy of PSU/Photo by Jonathan Bird)
Variable stiffness magnetic spring test setup (Courtesy of PSU/Photo by Jonathan Bird)

The project is part of a $25 million initiative through U.S. DOE to advance the commercial viability of wave energy through open water testing at the PacWave site on the Oregon coast.

With a $4.5 million grant secured through the initiative, the researchers at PSU will focus on refining the design of the electromagnetic component parts of the novel device that could possibly be able to harness ten time more power from waves than currently available technology, according to the university.

Construction of the parts will be done by a start-up company FluxMagic, owned by Jonathan Bird, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, who is also the recipient of the grant.

FluxMagic also employs PSU students and has been operating out of the Portland State Business Accelerator since August 2019. The Portland-based start-up AquaHarmonics will then integrate the components into the buoy-like wave energy converter, which will be tested in a wave tank at Oregon State and then at the PacWave site.

At the PacWave facility, Bird will be able to test the feasibility of his designs in the open ocean without going through any additional permitting processes.

Together with AquaHarmonics Bird will this year begin testing magnetic prototypes in a wave tank at Oregon State University, according to PSU.

This new technology should also be better able to withstand storm conditions and require less maintenance, the researchers state. Because they can be smaller and more efficient than converters that rely on traditional technology, these new converters are more likely to be cost effective and able to compete with other forms of energy.

Jonathan Bird said: “The ocean moves at a very low speed, and the forces are very high. This makes it difficult to convert that into the high speed, low torque needed for power generation. It’s a very challenging source of energy.

“If you can tune the wave energy converter to be at the same frequency as the wave motion, then you can generate a lot more power, like ten times more.”

Ron Wyden, the U.S. Senator for Oregon, said: “Wave energy is an essential piece of the strategy to combat the climate crisis, and I’m gratified that Oregon State University, PSU and our state will play a central role in developing this energy source to its full potential.

“I look forward very much to what the innovative minds at both OSU and PSU as well as elsewhere develop with these projects that put our country on the path to a clean energy future.”