AFA researchers testing ocean waves
Dec 31, 2007 - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Tom
Roeder The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Researchers at the Air Force Academy are developing
an idea that could use ocean waves to meet much of
the nation's energy needs.
The devices used to extract the energy look like
the paddle wheels on river steamships of old, but
with some new twists added by researcher Stefan Siegel
along with aeronautics research center director Thomas
McLaughlin. They envision submersible barges lined
with the wheels that would be able to use the movement
of ocean water to generate electricity and transmit
it to shore over submerged cables.
"Wave energy has lots of potential," said Siegel,
who is working with cadets to figure out the mind-boggling
mathematics involved in accurately modeling the invention.
"There is also a tremendous amount of it available."
Although the idea might seem more appropriate for
the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., McLaughlin said
the idea evolved out of experiments to see how air
moved around cylindrical objects.
"Water is a fluid and so is air," said McLaughlin,
whose department helps cadets get hands-on engineering
experience by working on research projects.
The academy has attracted grants from the National
Science Foundation to help pay for the research. Siegel
said the idea hasn't created electricity yet, but
it has generated a national buzz.
Key to the invention is the idea that the blades
on the paddle wheels will act like wings and can be
steered to deal with different sea conditions. They
would also be designed to work in pairs that spin
in opposite directions to cancel out the power of
the waves against the submerged barge.
Scores of designs to generate electricity from ocean
waves have already been tried with limited success.
The main problem with moving water is it can rapidly
change intensity and direction.
By submerging the generating plant and allowing it
to move with the waves, though, Siegel thinks he has
those problems licked.
The main reason ocean-based power is attractive is
that 70 percent of the world's population lives within
100 miles of a sea.
"If I can use the wave power right off Los Angeles
or San Francisco, I have tremendous savings in infrastructure,"
And because moving water is so much heavier than
air, its potential to generate electricity is up to
25 times greater than a wind farm of similar size,
Key to turning the idea into reality will be the
work of cadets using the academy's aeronautics supercomputer
to calculate how the water will flow over the paddle
wheels. Minuscule changes to how the paddles are designed
can make a huge difference in how much power could
The academy's focus on real-world projects helps
cadets problem-solve their way through engineering,
a far tougher task than working out textbook solutions,
"By working side by side with them, they can see
what we do when things don't work," he said.
It will take years of trial and error to transform
a project like the seapowered generator to something
that sends kilowatts to homes.
"This is applied research," Siegel said.
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