The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and Minority-Serving Institutions STEM Research and Development Consortium (MSRDC) today announced nearly $1.2 million for high-impact water power research projects at minority-serving colleges and universities. This funding is part of WPTO’s Seedlings for Universities initiative, which aims to seed research and development activities in academic institutions that do not have significant existing water power research portfolios.  

Water power technologies, including marine energy and hydropower, are key to achieving a clean electricity sector by 2035 and a net-zero-emissions economy by 2050. These resources depend on the movement and flow of water and are generally predictable and reliable. This makes them well-suited to help balance an electricity grid with higher levels of variable renewable energy like wind and solar.    

The five selected projects, three focused on marine energy and two focused on hydropower, are: 

Topic: New and Innovative Ideas to Advance Marine Energy 

The University of Houston will engineer a wave-powered seawater desalination device, which could process seawater into clean drinking water, to improve water supply resiliency in remote coastal communities. The device will integrate a multimode wave energy converter, which can harness energy from the movement of water coming from multiple directions, with a reverse osmosis membrane system to remove salt from seawater. With this device, the project team aims to increase clean water production from seawater using the amount of energy expected to be available near the shore. 

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte will develop a novel power take-off system, which converts ocean motions into electricity, for wave energy converters. This new power take-off system will use the “hypertwist” phenomenon, which occurs when a rotor is supported on a loop of cord such that rotation of the rotor causes the lines of the cord to wind and unwind. The winding and unwinding motion moves components in a generator, which creates electricity. This type of power take-off system could increase the reliability of wave energy converters and require less maintenance than traditional systems.   

Elizabeth City State University, in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory, will assess existing wave energy converters to inform material design and fabrication methods for a new direct-wave energy converter. This type of device converts the power from waves directly into electricity, potentially using piezoelectric or other materials that produce an electric charge when a force (like pressure) is applied to them. The team will also design prototypes of this new device to test how materials behave and to maximize the amount of electricity it can generate. 

Topic: Hydrologic and/or Hydropower Systems Modeling for Climate Resilience 

The University of Houston, partnering with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, will develop a reservoir model that uses artificial intelligence to process data at rapid speeds and uncover water and drought patterns that conventional reservoir models may miss. Reservoir models inform hydropower facilities’ operations, and this new model could help operators develop management strategies that maximize hydropower output while balancing reservoirs’ other functions such as irrigation and flood control.  

The University of Texas at El Paso, partnering with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the International Boundary and Waters Commission, will develop a simulation-optimization tool to support the design and operation of hybrid floating photovoltaic-hydropower systems. These systems locate floating photovoltaics (solar) and hydropower generation together on a reservoir, offering the opportunity for them to work together to better meet power demand. The team will apply the tool to reservoirs in the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo basin with the goal of scaling to more complex reservoir systems in the future.  

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