New wave of ocean energy to be trialed off the coast of Australia


December 5, 2011

bioWAVE is a wave power system, inspired by the swaying motions of kelp plants

bioWAVE is a wave power system, inspired by the swaying motions of kelp plants

Anyone who has ever been scuba diving in a bull kelp forest will tell you - the stuff does not stand still. The marine aquatic plant consists of a long skinny-but-tough stem (or stipe) that is anchored to the sea floor and topped with a hollow float, from which a number of "leaves" (or blades) extend to the surface. The result is a seaweed that extends vertically up through the water column, continuously swaying back and forth with the surging waves. The researchers at Australia's BioPower Systems evidently looked at that kelp, and thought, "what if we could use that swaying action to generate power?" The result was their envisioned bioWAVE system, which could soon become a reality, thanks to a just-announced AUD$5 million (US$5.1 million) grant from the Victorian Minister for Energy and Resources.

At the base of each bioWAVE system would be a triangular foundation, keeping it anchored to the sea floor. Extending up from the middle of that foundation would be a central column, topped with multiple blades - these would actually be more like a combination of the kelp's blades and floats, as they would be cylindrical, buoyant structures that just reach to the surface. The column would join the foundation via a hinged pivot, allowing it to bend or swivel in any direction.

Wave action (both at the surface and below) would catch the blades and push them back and forth, in turn causing the column to move back and forth relative to the foundation. This movement would pressurize fluid within an integrated hydraulic power conversion module, known as an O-Drive. The movement of that fluid would spin a generator, converting the kinetic energy of the waves into electricity, which would then be delivered to shore via subsea cables. The video below illustrates how the system would work.

According to BioPower, each system could be installed in the ocean using standard vessels without any special equipment - all components would be towed and then sunk into place. The O-Drive would be easily detached and replaced, so the whole assembly wouldn't need to be pulled out of the water for servicing. Additionally, the system would automatically detect unusually large swells, at which point it would flood the blades, causing them to lie down flat against the seabed for protection - this should allow for lighter, less expensive construction materials, as the blades wouldn't need to be designed to take the full force of violent conditions.

As an added bonus, unlike many other wave power systems, very little hardware would be visible above the surface. This should help with public acceptance of the technology.

The $5 million grant will go towards an AUD$14 million (US$14,365,000) four-year pilot demonstration unit, to be installed at a grid-connected site near Port Fairy, Victoria. Some other funds have already been obtained, leaving $3.6 million still to be raised.

While the 250-kilowatt pilot system would operate in 30-meter (98.5-foot)-deep waters, the planned 1-megawatt commercial-scale units would work at depths of 40-45 meters (131-148 feet), each one running four O-Drives in parallel. A number of such units could be located in one area where the depth and wave action are ideal, creating "wave farms."

We wish BioPower luck with the endeavor, and will be watching its progress with interest.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Green naivete is already being tapped on a large scale

Keef Wivanef

Alternative power isn't just cool and hip - it makes you feel superior over those nuclear power knuckle-draggers.

I don't trust any power generation method favored by anybody over 24, especially if they don't like hummus and arugula.

Besides, with enough mountains of taxpayer money burned up in endless subsidy, alternative energy systems can indeed be made to generate electricity. I saw it in somebody's predictive model.

And if not I can always pedal to keep the lights on.

Todd Dunning

The article failed to mention one important thing about this particular wave power system, it is unlikely to be harmful in anyway to sea creatures unlike under-water turbines that sea creatures can get stuck in and killed or hit by churning blades.


@Oztechi Most modern tidal turbine designs turn so slowly that they are unlikely to harm marine life. Unless a whale swims directly into them.


Todd, I do hope you jest, because either that was a joke that wasn\'t too funny or you have bizarre trust issues.

Daryl Sonnier

It may be a good technology for isolated towns located close to ocean. I am hoping that the Rossi E-cat will resolve all safety problems and will be to market within a few years. I live within a few miles of the ocean and have noticed that the salt water even in air carried inland for some distance has an adverse affect on houses, especially on metal parts such as nails. It even affects the power transmission lines over 1/2 mile away; I used to see crews with spray devices cleaning the high voltage terminals so that the discharge loss would be lessened. You could actually hear the buz of the arc that was caused by the voltage being conducted over the surface of the terminals and, at night, see the discharges.

Adrian Akau

If the reliability of the universal joint is adequate, this sort of energy harvesting could be used to compress air to oxygenate dead zones off eg. the Mississippi. Putting enough dissolved air into the first 30 feet to bring back the fish could be a genuine reversal of a major human caused blight. Additionally, in the air compression mode, no feedlines and generators are needed, so data can be more easily gathered on the performance of the unique features of the design.


Todd makes some interesting points!


This sounds an awful lot like wind power: huge upfront costs for a pathetic amount of actual power generated.

By way of comparison, an average conventional power plant puts out about 600 megawatts.

Jon A.

@adrian, the rossi device is a scam, look it up:) and sorry, I too was hopefulwhen I first saw it

Tony Smale


Google some of Todd\'s comments here on Gizmag. He\'s the resident nuclear power superfan and hater of all things \"green.\"


Be nice if it works, but a full scale plant will still only produce a trickle of current compared to a conventional or nuclear power plant.


This could be useful for a lot of little island states in the Pacific and similar, which are currently getting all their power from diesel generators at enormous cost.


Oh NOoooooo! Another green widget scam? No doubt the company directors will be drawing a fat salary for the next 10 years while they phart around with their widget. Excuse me for stating the bleeding obvious. No piece of machinery will operate in a saltwater environment without requiring frequent and expensive maintenance. The (very slight) energy that can be harvested from beneath the waves is confined to a depth equal to the wave height. They would need to move the widget up and down to compensate for the tide heights. The kelp might gently move around with the wave action but this silly gadget will never harness even a smidgen of power. it is a load of old Jackson Pollocks!

Keef Wivanef

Dunning and Wivanef(is that really your name lol) are professional scoffers at Green energy projects. Well I scoff at those scoffers. While these scoffers are scoffing, Green energy projects keep going and going and going...

Everett Cox

Todd, Excellent points. I would add washing to the list. A good hippie must have dreadlocks and BO as qualifications to lead us into the new dawn of a green energy future. Mothball the nukes, shut down the coal, with solar, wind and waves there will be bountiful free energy for everyone.


re; drbob

Water wheels would do just as good job aerating the water while providing mechanical energy at the same time.


Wave Energy needs to be tapped on a large scale.

Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Seems suspiciously similar to Salter\'s MACE from the 1990\'s or Aquamarine Power\'s OYSTER, no?

Smithwick McGuinness

Very similar to the CETO concept which was re badged as Carnegie Wave Energy. Totally stupid idea. \"trials\" being conducted at secure naval dockyard Garden Island WA. (sorry, top secret, just keep sending the munny) Carnegie Wave Energy has been a nice little earner for its board of directors but a total disaster for investors. Carbon Fund.....more swill...yumeeeee......OINK OINK OINK!

Keef Wivanef
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