Tuesday, February 8, 2005 Last modifiedSaturday,
February 5, 2005 12:07 AM PST
Waves power future
The working permanent magnet linear generator
model, being moved by Xiaolin Zhou, left, and
Ken Rhinefrank weighs about 100 pounds. The actual
generator will be able to power about 200 costal
By Mary Ann Albright
OSU stakes claim to wave
energy research center
Oregon State University made headway this week in
its campaign to host a national wave energy research
center after meeting with electrical power experts
and the state Department of Energy in Portland.
"It went very well," said
Annette von Jouanne, OSU electrical engineering professor
and co-principal investigator for the university's
wave energy program. "We have a great deal of support
for pursuing wave energy as the next big source of
clean, renewable energy."
Engineers are still developing technology to harness
ocean waves as an energy source. OSU researchers lead
the country in this field, which von Jouanne sees
as the future of economically and environmentally
smart electrical power.
Von Jouanne and Alan Wallace, her co-principal investigator
and fellow engineering professor, want to see a U.S.
ocean energy research and demonstration center built,
and they think Oregon is the best place for it.
OSU already boasts the nation's leading energy systems
laboratory, a wave research laboratory with the world's
largest tsunami basin and a state-of-the-art motor
systems research facility. OSU argues that these resources,
along with its excellent wave energy program and proximity
to the Oregon coast, make it the ideal site for the
proposed ocean energy facility's research hub.
As for the demonstration site, experts say Reedsport,
a two-and-half hour drive from OSU on the southern
Oregon coast, is optimal. The ocean near Reedsport
combines good wave action with a suitable sea floor,
and proponents say the community could support a center
"Our focus at OSU has been to try to find the optimal
design for wave energy exchange," von Jouanne said.
To that end, von Jouanne, Wallace and about 15 OSU
students are designing and testing three prototypes
for capitalizing on the ocean's energy potential.
They have one model completed so far — a permanent
magnet linear generator. This design consists of a
magnetic shaft anchored to the sea floor and a floating
buoy with windings (electrical conductors). When the
ocean's waves cause the buoy to move up and down,
the windings interact with the shaft's magnetic field
to induce voltages and generate electricity.
Wallace said this model performed well but that the
team will create and test the other two in the wave
lab during the course of the remaining school year
before deciding which design to create full-scale
and, team members hope, demonstrate at Reedsport.
Von Jouanne and Wallace conceptualized this project
eight years ago. Two years ago, they received their
first funding from the National Science Foundation
and began designing models.
Like wind energy in its early experimental days, wave
energy will initially be very expensive to create.
"Today's cost is high, but if you run these things
for a long period of time, the cost per energy unit
goes down," Wallace explained. He added that wind
energy, which was developed about 20 years ago, is
now affordable and price-competitive with most other
Wallace and von Jouanne are seeking grants to make
their national ocean energy center goal happen. Wallace
estimates that establishing the demonstration facility
will cost somewhere in the ballpark of $5 million.
Though still in its infancy, wave energy holds huge
potential. According to Wallace, scientists estimate
that 0.2 percent of the ocean's energy could power
the world. Coastal communities stand to benefit most
from this energy source.
As far as they know, Wallace and von Jouanne are the
only engineers in the United States creating wave
energy devices. The U.S. Navy has some research efforts
going on in this area, but Wallace said that any findings
naval researchers may have are currently classified
and not commercially available. Several European countries
have experimental wave energy models, and Scotland
already has a device that produces useful energy.
Wallace said opponents to wave energy allege that
the buoys will damage the coastline aesthetically.
"To that, we say that these things will be at least
a mile or two offshore," he said. "You'll need a good
pair of binoculars to see them."
Buoys vary in size, depending upon how much energy
they produce. Von Jouanne said a scaled-up version
of the OSU prototype might be 12 feet in diameter
and 12 feet tall. Such a device would generate approximately
250 kilowatts of electricity, which could power about
In addition to making OSU the epicenter of wave energy
research, the national wave center would attract some
of the best engineering students.
"Renewable energy is a big topic with students because
they feel like they can make a difference," von Jouanne
said. "We've already had students from all over the
country asking to participate in this project. Right
now we have more students who want in than we can
support. If the center opens, more students can get