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The seemingly endless expanse of ocean that covers 70% of our planet remains a mystery, still largely unexplored—some estimates suggest we have mapped less than 10% of it.

As we celebrate National Ocean Month, let’s take a look at what the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Labs supporting the Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) are doing to harness the immense power of the waves and understand what lies beneath them.

Blue Economy Evolution

The ocean holds great power and promise. Through their work on DOE’s “Powering the Blue EconomyTM” initiative, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are working to remove the power constraints from blue economy industries, such as aquaculture and ocean observation.

Through competitions, such as the Waves to Water Prize and the Ocean Observing Prize, DOE is challenging innovators to develop the next-generation technologies that build resilient coastal communities and provide power at sea.

Launched last summer, the Waves to Water Prize is a five-stage competition that offers competitors up to $3.3 million in cash prizes to demonstrate small, modular, cost-competitive desalination systems that use the power of ocean waves to provide clean drinking water for disaster recovery and for remote and coastal communities.

The Ocean Observing Prize challenges innovators to integrate marine renewable energy with ocean observation platforms. A joint prize between WPTO and the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) program at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the competition aims to revolutionize our capability to collect the data needed to understand, map, and monitor the ocean.

As part of this multiyear prize, competitors will participate in a Rechargeable Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Competition this fall.

Testing the Waters

If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Thanks to the Sandia Wave Energy Power Take-Off (SWEPT) Lab, developers of tomorrow’s marine energy technologies can do just that.

The SWEPT Lab at the Sandia National Laboratories assists researchers in designing and testing wave energy converter (WEC) power take-off (PTO) systems. And the best part? SWEPT is a mobile test lab that can travel to you.

WECs produce renewable, sustainable power for devices both at sea and on the shore by capturing the mechanical energy from ocean waves and converting it into electricity. PTOs are the part of the WEC that transform that wave power into useable electricity. But because of the way in which they create energy, the WEC PTO systems require special methods and facilities for their design and testing.

The SWEPT Lab employs hydraulic machinery to simulate forces from ocean waves on the device, allowing researchers to evaluate the PTO systems for reliability, grid interface, and more.

Better testing can lead to better devices, and Sandia’s extensive testing facilities extend beyond those that validate wave energy converters.

By opening their world-class research facilities and technology deployment centers to industry, small businesses, universities, other laboratories, state and local governments, and the wider scientific community, Sandia is helping to bring new technologies to the marketplace.

Exploring the Puget Sound–Remotely

Would you like to take a look inside DOE’s only marine research facility?

This month, PNNL’s Marine Sciences Laboratory (MSL) is opening its doors for tours—virtually. Available on YouTube, tourists can take a look inside the 15,000-square-foot research laboratory on the shoreline of Sequim Bay in Puget Sound.

MSL’s location allows its researchers to directly study environmental impacts on marine species, test innovative marine sensors, and access diverse marine environments within a quick boat ride.

Roughly 85 staff carry out research and testing at MSL in areas such as algal biofuels, ocean acidification, coastal risk prediction and analysis, and more. Here, they develop the tools, technologies, and modeling that enable sustainable energy development from coastal environments and the protection of fragile ecosystems.

As we celebrate National Ocean Month 2020, the exciting work of our National Laboratories gives us many reasons for hope and the promise of discovery, both above and beneath the waves.

About the Labs

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is DOE’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies, and economic competitiveness, with main facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on signature capabilities in chemistry, Earth sciences, and data analytics to advance scientific discovery and create solutions to the nation’s toughest challenges in energy resiliency and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the DOE’s Office of Science. The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.