Marine Energy Technologies Can Meet Energy Needs of Other Ocean Industries

December 19, 2017

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Six men and one woman on stage at the Marine Energy Technologies Forum.

Earlier this month, the Water Power Technologies Office held a Marine Energy Technologies Distributed and Alternate Applications Forum to discuss new applications for marine energy, and how emerging technologies capturing wave and tidal power can help meet the energy needs of a range of coastal and marine industries.

The event brought together representatives from the marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) industry who are at the forefront of marine energy generation, as well as experts from several high-potential markets. Attendees provided feedback and input into which markets are best suited to the different marine energy technologies, and how devices can be designed and operated to maximize their benefits for each application. The event was divided into three days each with a specific topical focus:

Food and Fuel

  • Micro and Macro Algae Markets: Sea-based algae farms, returning unused nutrients to the sea, and applications for animal feed, biodiesel, and hydrocarbons
  • Aquaculture Markets: Potential for renewable energy usage in offshore/near-shore aquaculture, offshore/ near shore farms, and the state of the U.S. seafood economy as driven by aquaculture

On the first day, panelists examined market potential for MHK-enabled marine algal biofuels to augment energy security and independence and explored how MHK power can reduce an estimated $15-billion-dollar-per-year seafood trade gap in the United States. Panelists represented a diverse combination of expertise from the Energy Department, University of Connecticut, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Manna Fish Farms, Goudey & Associates, and the World Bank. Attendees identified reliability and consistent availability of electricity as the key intersection of food and fuel market needs and MHK potential.

Sensors and Data

  • Ocean Observation/Navigation: Inspection of subsea infrastructure, power below and above water sensors
  • Resident Autonomous Underwater Vehicle/Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Recharging: Inspection of subsea infrastructure, power below and above water sensors

Second day panels analyzed the potential overlap between MHK and the research, defense, and industrial communities that use at-sea sensors and data. Experts from the University of Washington, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the Energy Department, the U.S. Naval Academy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Virginia Tech, and the Department of Defense identified and discussed several MHK power density considerations in detail. Tradeoff scenarios were posed on whether MHK technology could be more efficiently used to reduce the cost or to power methods for ocean observation technologies such as sensors. Panelists and attendees had a lively discussion on the possibility of increased power potential from an MHK source that could lead to greater sensor capabilities and new potential markets.  

The afternoon panels explored using MHK technologies for powering/recharging autonomous or unmanned underwater vehicles (AUV/UUVs), research sensors, and subsea inspection equipment. There was energetic discussion on the rapidly expanding unmanned autonomous undersea market space and how an MHK power source could be a key enabler in the key attributes of mission endurance, persistence, and data transfer. Participants were optimistic for the market growth within this space, and how MHK power could potentially reduce costs and lengthen mission deployments.

Water and Minerals

  • Desalination of Seawater: Strategic use within small and rural communities, along with applications for larger municipalities
  • Seawater Mineral Extraction: Utilizing the hydrocarbons from carbon capture processes and addressing trade gaps within the rare-earth element market

Desalination of seawater as well as methods for seawater mineral extraction rounded out the final day of the forum. Perspectives from the Water Desalination Report-- a weekly publication for the desalination industry, the Energy Department, Colorado School of Mines, CalDesal, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and Resolute Marine explored different methods for powering desalination operations within remote island communities, as well as the need to increase the number of demonstration tests to validate system integration between desalination devices and MHK technologies. Testing is essential to gather critical performance data to address technical risks, lower costs, and inform future designs—all steps to accelerating the commercialization and deployment of mass-produced wave energy technologies. Participants also identified factors that make the strongest business case for MHK powered desalinization of seawater such as location, price of water, price of diesel fuel, availability of funding for clean water projects, and pilot projects de-risking the technology for future investment.

The final panel of the event discussed ways of integrating MHK into rare earth mineral extraction applications or generation of hydrogen fuels. Experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PNNL, and the European Marine Energy Center exchanged ideas with the attendees about the opportunity to apply novel concepts such as ballasting and de-ballasting-- the action of strategically sinking or raising an ocean-based vessel systems-- in order to de-risk mining operations in areas of concern or biofouling within the rare earth mining extraction space. Biofouling is not as aggressive deeper in the ocean where there is also a reduced chance of systems interacting with marine animals. Additional discussion identified the crosscutting market potential of autonomous ships powered by MHK to aid mineral extraction at larger scales. Attendees discussed how MHK-powered high value mineral extraction and the hydrogen generation market appear to be a nearer term opportunity with larger market potential than initially thought.

MHK technologies convert the predictable and forecastable energy of waves, tides, and river and ocean currents into electricity and have the potential to provide millions of Americans with locally sourced, clean, and reliable energy. Additionally, MHK has the potential to provide cost-effective energy for numerous existing distributed and alternate applications in non-grid connected or remote, coastal areas—including military bases and smaller communities—where electricity costs are high. WPTO will produce a report summarizing the opportunities within each of the potential market areas discussed at the forum.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) is advancing cutting-edge technology to modernize the U.S. hydropower fleet and drive U.S. leadership in new ocean and river energy, with the goal of delivering low-cost power and resiliency to the nation's power grids. Subscribe to WPTO's Breaking News email for important updates.