Matt Pushkin was hanging around the Dell ReGeneration booth at CES 2008, and we got to talking about alternative energy. Turns out, he works for Aquatic Energy, who are harvesting algae in Lousiana and turning it into biodiesel. I asked him to share what he's doing with us, and he gladly agreed.
Matt's company is taking CO2 from local industry and pumping it into specially built algae ponds, which are harvested every three to five days. While one acre of soy can produce about a barrel of biodiesel a in a year, the same land dedicated to this unique process produces between 1500-2000 barrels of B100 a year, depending on how sunny it is. Talk about solar power!
AquaBuOY, the tidal energy-harnessing progeny of Finavera Renewables, has found its first commercial taker in the United States. Pacific Gas and Electric (likely in a response to California state law requiring 20% of energy from utilities to be renewable by 2010) has signed on for two megawatts worth of wave energy from the Canadian corporation.
The installation of eight AquaBuOYs, planned for an area 2.5 miles off the shore of Humboldt County, is expected to be operable by 2012, and would provide power for up to 1500 homes. If the project is successful, Finavera hopes to increase the wave farm to 100 megawatts.
Full-scale AquaBuOYs are forty-ton, seventy-five foot tall structures that work through wave action and simple hydraulic principles. (An animated video of the AquaBuOY with symphonic accompaniment is available above.) Simply put, the uppermost part of the AquaBuOY bobs on the surface of the ocean, providing the motion to pump a long piston dangling underneath it. The piston pressurizes a chamber which powers a turbine, producing electricity.
A test run of AquaBuOY off the Oregon coast ended with a bilge pump failure and a sinking of the prototype, a nearly 6 million dollar loss. However, Finavera quickly rebounded with the new contract with Pacific Gas and Electric and the backing of private investors.
According to Finavera, wave farms will produce energy optimally at one to five cents more per watt than coal or natural gas, but at up to thirteen cents per watt cheaper than current solar or wind technologies.
the 72-foot-tall buoy began taking on water late last week and sank just one day before engineers were going to remove it.
And, well, it is interesting that, it seems, every renewable energy approach out there has its version of NIMBYism. In this case, the crabbers:
Al Pazar, chairman of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, said the mishap validates the concerns of the fishing industry.
"We've got a big chunk of iron laying at the bottom of the ocean which will probably gobble up a bunch of crab gear," he said. "It's just another place for things to collect and make a big mess."
There's no word on why, exactly, this happened. But it looks like it's not as big of a disaster as the crabbers would have us believe. The buoy uses no lubrication, so there's no associated chemical spill, and it's still anchored to the sea floor, and will be recovered in spring.
We've covered several wave-powered electricity-producing technologies here, including the Aquabuoy and the Pelamis. Here's another that caught our attention simply due to its immense size!
Like the Aquabuoy, the Wavebob uses a self-reacting point absorber -- basically that means two floating bodies (the buoy and a submerged weight mass) which are connected by shafts, heave at different rates, and their pushing and pulling motions create electricity. The Wavebob also includes some integrated systems that allow it to adjust itself based on the size of the waves, allowing it to harness energy from waves as large as 15m high in regular service.
The system, which is a massive 20m in diameter, has been designed to withstand "100-year" waves, the type that occur only in rare storm systems, with small displacements, making it very seaworthy. The end result with this badbuoy is that the unit, which is in the latter stages of testing, will produce over 500KW per unit, with some units producing 1MW each in the North Atlantic.
Harnessing the power of the waves to create energy for the masses seems to be taking several inventive modes these days. One idea from a company called Swell Fuel targets the use of a lever operated device.
Swell Fuel's "Ocean Energy Converter": Using "a lever operated pivoting float anchored to the ocean floor, Swell Fuel's ocean energy converters are designed to withstand pounding waves. The wave motion triggers the movement of the lever, which in turn produces electricity.”
Swell Fuel hopes to produce some 350,000kW per year per unit and says that by linking the units together, one could potentially provide a significant source of electricity. The company already has one patent issued and has apparently already licensed the technology in five countries, with several others expressing interest.
That's pretty impressive, as Swell Fuel seems to be just a guy with some PVC pipe and a dream.