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Sandia Labs Working on Energy From Waves, Tides, Moving Water

Dec 28, 2009 - John Fleck Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

To a power-generating turbine, the tides moving up and down New York's East River look very much like the wind. In one case, air drives the turbine's blades, in the other it is water. But the science behind it is very much the same.

That is the key to a new energy research initiative at Sandia National Laboratories in "marine hydrokinetics" -- generating energy from tides, waves and other kinds of moving water.

"It's an industry in its infancy," said Jose Zayas, manager of Sandia's newly formed Wind and Water Power Technologies group.

Sandia, with long experience in developing turbines for wind energy, has already been working with a company called Verdant Power. Verdant is placing similar turbines underwater in a demonstration project, generating electricity from the tidal flow in Manhattan's East River.

Now the work at Sandia is being expanded, with $3.2 million per year for the next three years from the U.S. Department of Energy.

A centerpiece is Sandia's 50-foot-deep Water Drop Pool.

Built in the 1980s to test what happens when nuclear weapons, hazardous materials storage containers and other things slam into water at high speeds, the 120-foot-by-188-foot pool will be modified to create an artificial wave pool.

Wave energy uses devices that tap into the rising and falling water of ocean waves, turning it into electricity. Tidal energy uses the flow of water through places like Manhattan's East River, as the gravitational pull of the moon and sun tugs water first into an estuary, then back out again.

Even at their best, these energy sources are dwarfed by the potential offered by wind energy, Zayas said. But they offer the possibility of contributing renewable energy, and they have the advantage of the generating plants being built close to cities, Zayas said. That avoids the long-distance power transmission difficulties that have limited wind energy's potential.

The wave pool will allow controlled testing of devices that would eventually be built at the seashore. Sandia will also do research on the environmental effects wave and tidal power systems might have, Zayas said.


Updated: 2003/07/28