Category: Energy innovations

Wave power to generate green electricity

Green energy company Ecotricity is adding the power of the Sea to that of the Wind and the Sun – to make its Green Electricity.

Ecotricity is developing a radical Wave power device called Searaser – which it believes can address two of the biggest barriers to the deployment of renewable energy on the scale that Britain needs – the issues of cost and intermittent output.

Searaser is the brainchild of British engineer Alvin Smith; it harnesses the power of ocean swells to create electricity.

Ecotricity founder Dale Vince said:

“Our vision is for Britain’s electricity needs to be met entirely from the big three renewable energy sources – the Wind, the Sun and the Sea.

“Until now, the Sea has been the least viable of those three energy sources and we believe that Searaser will change all of that. Indeed we believe Searaser has the potential to produce electricity at a lower cost than any other type energy, not just other forms of renewable energy but all ‘conventional’ forms of energy too.”

Inventor Alvin Smith said the main barrier to making wave-power efficient and therefore cost-effective – was resilience against the hostile ocean environment.

“Most existing wave technologies seek to generate electricity in the sea itself. But as we know water and electricity don’t mix – and seawater is particularly corrosive – so most other devices are very expensive to manufacture and maintain.

“But Searaser doesn’t generate the electricity out at sea. It simply uses the motion of the ocean swell to pump seawater through an onshore generator.”

Searaser pumps seawater using a vertical piston between two buoys – one on the surface of the water, the other suspended underwater and tethered to a weight on the seabed. As the ocean swell moves the buoys up-and-down the piston pumps volumes of pressurised seawater through a pipe to an onshore turbine to produce electricity.


This opens up the additional option for Searaser units to be used to supply energy on-demand. By pumping seawater into coastal storage reservoir, it can be released through a generator as required – thus making not just energy from the Sea but energy that can be turned on and off as required.  Such a system will go a long way to solving the problem of renewable energy’s naturally intermittent output on Britain’s electricity grid.

Ecotricity’s move into wave power comes as the Government and the Crown Estate make changes that they hope will encourage more development of wave-power in Britain.

  • From January 2012, the Crown Estate – which owns the seabed surrounding the UK – has reduced the burden of financial guarantees it requires from wave and tidal developers to obtain a lease option from £25 million to £5 million.

Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said:

“Marine Energy is a real priority for the coalition government.

“It’s great news that Ecotricity are now making waves in marine power with their plans for Searaser. The UK leads the world in developing marine energy technology and it’s vital that the sector continues to bring forward innovative new technologies.

“Marine energy is becoming an increasingly attractive investment for businesses, not least because we are proposing more than a doubling of financial support to the sector through the ROCs scheme.”

Vince said Ecotricity’s investment will drive the next phase of Searasers’ development, by having a commercial scale Searaser in the Sea within 12 months and 200 Searaser units around the British coastline within five years.

Vince said:

“The potential is enormous.  This is a British invention that could transform the energy market not just here in Britain but around the world.  Our plan is to develop the technology and make them here in Britain, bringing green jobs as well as green energy to our country.”

Ecotricity Press Release Watch video

Algal oil powers cargo and navy ships in marine fuel trials

Substituting biofuel for bunker fuel may bring about revolution in world’s shipping fleets, Giant cargo boats and US navy warships have been successfully powered on oil derived from genetically modified algae. This could start a revolution in the fuel used by the world’s fleets – and a reduction in the pollution they cause.

Shipping takes 350m tonnes of oil a year and causes 3-4% of all greenhouse gas emissions, so it is very attractive to find alternatives. 10% or more of the world’s ships could be powered by biofuels in 20 years’ time. The US Navy and the world’s largest shipping company Maersk are currently conducting feasibility trial with Solazyme that manufactures the fuel in giant fermentation tanks in Pennsylvania. The fast-growing algae are fed crop or forest waste and convert their sugars to oil.

Unlike early biofuels, which made transport fuel from food crops, the new “second generation” process uses only plant waste and does not displace foods which could be fed to people or animals. Nevertheless, immense amounts of feedstock would be needed to power the world’s ships. Maersk estimates it could take the crop waste of an area half the size of Denmark to completely power its ships.

But even a partial switch to algal oils would massively reduce air pollution. Bunker fuel, which is little more than asphalt, can produce as much pollution from a single ship in a year as 50m cars and is the most polluting fuel in the world.

Read the full News article in The Guardian

Additional reading:

Navy to Buy $12 Million of Advanced Biofuels in Record Purchase 5 Dec 2011

Solazyme ranked #1 in “50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy” for 2011-12 9 November 2011

Aviation companies use local biofuel 8 November 2011 See video below:


Turning waste paper into electricity

Sony has unveiled a paper-powered battery prototype in Japan.

The technology generates electricity by turning shredded paper into sugar which in turn is used as fuel.

If brought to market, the innovation could allow the public to top up the power of their mobile devices using waste material.

Read full BBC report

The big question is: Could it be scaled up?

Windstalks : wind power without the blades

Here’s a very interesting idea for generating electricity from windstalks rather than using wind blades. New York design firm Atelier DNA consider that these wind stalks will generate as much electricity in the same area as conventional wind farms. However, the land underneath wind stalks could not be used for agricultural purposes as conventional land-based wind farms do. But could the idea be used on old industrial sites brownfield sites like some of Liverpool or London Docklands. What about on the roofs of concrete buildings – Wind Stalk – micro-generation plants? On a micro-scale don’t they look like spikes that are used to keep birds off windows ledges? Could we have nano-generation energy plants?

Read on for more information about this idea.

Atelier DNA’s “Windstalk”project came in second in the Land Art Generator competition a contest sponsored by Madsar to identify the best work of art that generates renewable energy from a pool of international submissions.

The proposed design calls for 1,203 ““stalks,” each 180-feet high with concrete bases that are between about 33- and 66-feet wide. The carbon-fiber stalks, reinforced with resin, are about a foot wide at the base tapering to about 2 inches at the top. Each stalk will contain alternating layers of electrodes and ceramic discs made from piezoelectric material, which generates a current when put under pressure. In the case of the stalks, the discs will compress as they sway in the wind, creating a charge.

Read the full article in Discovery News