The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) today announced nearly $1.8 million for nine projects to further marine energy research and development at DOE’s national laboratories. These projects will advance marine energy technologies and their roles in achieving both national and local clean energy goals.  

Marine energy technologies harness power from waves, tides, and ocean and river currents. While these technologies are not yet widely deployed across the country, total available marine energy resources in the United States are equivalent to approximately 57% of all U.S. power generation. Even if only a small portion of this technical resource potential is captured, marine energy technologies would make significant contributions to U.S. energy needs. Marine energy resources are also predictable and consistently available, meaning technologies that harness this power can complement other renewables like wind energy and solar power.  

Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), and Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia) will lead these projects.   

The projects announced today are “Saplings” funded under WPTO’s Seedlings and Saplings program to encourage and support new and innovative research ideas at DOE’s national laboratories. Most started as “Seedlings” and received up to $100,000. They have now been selected to become “Saplings” and will receive additional funding of $80,000 to $500,000.  
The nine projects are: 

NREL will explore commercialization pathways for a floating marine turbine currently in development that is designed to reduce the costs associated with building, installing, and maintaining this type of turbine system. It has the potential to generate affordable electricity for communities with access to river, tidal, or ocean current resources. 

Sandia is partnering with Michigan Technological University to continue its research into varying the frequency and direct current voltage of motor drives in wave energy devices, a strategy that can improve electricity generation efficiency by reducing power losses. The team will apply this research to the Pioneer Array’s wave energy converter system, which can benefit from power loss reductions because it is already a relatively low power (10- to 100-watt) generator. 

PNNL previously demonstrated the feasibility of marine energy-powered seawater mining that can extract high-purity magnesium salts from seawater. Magnesium and its compounds have various applications in advancing clean energy and decarbonization by making up lightweight and high-strength alloys that can be used in electric vehicles and wind turbine components. This effort aims to develop industrial ties and identify commercialization pathways for taking the innovation from lab to market.   

NREL will accelerate the marine industry’s ability to obtain data during turbine deployments with the goal of optimizing turbine designs and reducing the costs of marine energy. The team will develop instrumentation methodologies and practices for outfitting full-scale tidal turbine blades with strain gauges and other sensors, which can collect data about the forces a blade encounters underwater. The team will validate these methodologies and practices by manufacturing and testing instrumented blades in representative submerged conditions. 

PNNL will explore commercialization pathways and continue working with numerous commercial partners on Flexible Superhydrophobic Lubricant-Infused Composite (FlexiSLIC), a unique, non-toxic, antifouling paint designed for coating flexible materials in wave and tidal energy applications. Currently, flexible components of these systems are often overlooked because existing coatings can only be applied to rigid surfaces. 

ORNL has already developed a new class of eco-friendly lubricants for marine machinery. In this project, researchers will examine issues surrounding oil dilution in water, oil aging in the marine environment, and the feasibility of low-viscosity lubricants (or lubricants that are thin liquids that flow easily) in marine energy devices, all of which will help pave the way for further marine energy development and commercialization.  

PNNL is continuing its work with ORNL on a non-invasive and reliable fish monitoring method that collects DNA and RNA from waterways to help identify the presence of aquatic species. The project will evaluate how environmental factors, tides, and seasons impact the effectiveness of these DNA/RNA monitoring methods and assess their applicability to marine energy environmental monitoring in the regulatory context. This project has the potential to reduce the cost and impact of environmental monitoring around tidal energy sites. 

Sandia will work with Kitware to help reduce the learning curve and costs associated with computational fluid dynamics software, which developers use to digitally test their devices as they redesign and innovate. This project will develop wave energy converter simulation examples and demonstrate how wave energy developers can use the graphical user interface developed by the researchers with an open-source software to configure simulations of their prototypes before moving on to more costly prototype development and testing.  

NREL will work with a tidal energy developer to advance the use and reliability of radio frequency-based underwater wireless communications methods in marine energy applications to acquire measurement data, such as data related to controls or turbine health monitoring. This real-time data transmission and collection is critical to improving the performance of ocean energy conversion devices and propelling them toward commercialization. 

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