Millenium Falcon robot to capture marine life answers for tidal projects

The University of Washington has reported on an underwater robot developed on its campus that will deploy instruments to gather information in unprecedented detail about how marine life interacts with underwater equipment used to harvest wave and tidal energy.

By K.Steiner-Dicks on Feb 17, 2015

Other companies mentioned in the Intelligence Brief includes: University of WashingtonApplied Physics Laboratory, Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Centre, US Navy, Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, InfraRed Capital Partners, Prudential,Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative (MRECo), Conte Fish Research Center

The University of Washington has reported on an underwater robot developed on its campus that will deploy instruments to gather information in unprecedented detail about how marine life interacts with underwater equipment used to harvest wave and tidal energy.

The shape of the monitoring package resembles an X-wind Starfighter from the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Called the “Millennium Falcon” the underwater monitoring device will use a combination of imaging and mathematical algorithms to gather the type of information energy regulators need to make decisions on tidal and wave project proposals for certain ocean and stream sites.

The instrument was developed to identify risks that could come into play in a long-term marine renewable energy project.

“This is the first attempt at a ‘plug-and-socket’ instrumentation package in the marine energy field. If successful, it will change the way that industry views the viability of environmental research and development,” said Brian Polagye, a University of Washington assistant professor of mechanical engineering and one of the project’s leaders.

The UW research team tested the Millennium Falcon and the instruments it transports, called the Adaptable Monitoring Package, underwater for the first time in January in a deep tank on campus. Researchers will continue testing in Puget Sound under more challenging conditions starting this month. They hope this tool will be useful for pilot tidal- and wave-energy projects and eventually in large-scale, commercial renewable-energy projects.

“We’ve really become leaders in this space, leveraging UW expertise with cabled instrumentation packages like those developed for the Ocean Observatories Initiative. What’s novel here is the serviceability of the system and our ability to rapidly deploy and recover the instruments at low cost,” said Andrew Stewart, an ocean engineer at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.

The instrument package can track and measure a number of sights and sounds underwater. It has a stereo camera to collect photos and video, a sonar system, hydrophones to hear marine mammal activity, sensors to gauge water quality and speed, a click detector to listen for whales, dolphins and porpoises, and even a device to detect fish tags. A fibre optic cable connection back to shore allows for real-time monitoring and control, and the device will be powered by a copper wire.

The breadth of sensors and various conditions this instrument can measure is unprecedented, researchers say. The tool also is unique for its ability to attach to most types of underwater infrastructure, ranging from tidal turbines to offshore oil and gas rigs. This allows researchers to easily deploy the instrument far offshore and recover it quickly at a relatively low cost compared with other approaches.

“It could be a first step toward a standardized ‘science port’ for marine energy projects,” Polagye said.

This speedy deployment and recovery — sometimes in rough seas — is possible because the instrument fits inside a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, that can maneuver underwater and drop off the instrumentation package at a docking station integrated onto a turbine or other existing subsea infrastructure.

The vehicle is about the size of a golf cart, and the research team outfitted the off-the-shelf Falcon underwater surveying machine with five extra thrusters on an external frame to give it more power to move against strong currents. Actuators on the vehicle latch the monitoring instruments onto a subsea docking station, and then device can disengage, leaving the instruments in place, and travel back to the water’s surface.

This project is a collaboration between researchers in mechanical engineering and the Applied Physics Laboratory, within the largerNorthwest National Marine Renewable Energy Centre, which is a multi-institution organization that develops marine renewable energy technologies through research, education and outreach. The centre and the Applied Physics Laboratory recently received $8m from the U.S. Navy to develop marine renewable energy for use at its facilities worldwide.

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon attracts £100m commitment

The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon has full equity funding following a decision by InfraRed Capital Partners to commit up to £100m into the £1bn project.

The investment from InfraRed equals that of Prudential and confirms full equity funding from two British institutions, according to InfraRed, a global investment manager focused on infrastructure and real estate.

The project will generate c.500GWh of electricity every year for 120 years, enough to provide nearly all of the domestic electricity for the Swansea Bay region, comprising the city and county of Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.

“It will help the UK meet its carbon reduction targets by saving more than 236,000 tonnes of CO2 each year; and establishes a scalable blueprint for a total of six UK lagoons that could between them provide 8% of the UK’s electricity, also for 120 years,” said InfraRed.

The tidal power station is scheduled to reach financial close in the summer with construction scheduled to begin immediately after, creating almost 2,000 jobs.

Werner von Guionneau, Chief Executive, InfraRed Capital Partners, said: “The power station is unique in that it not only leverages the estuary’s second highest tidal range in the world but it will also make a material contribution towards both the local economy in South Wales and the long term stability of sustainable energy supply in the UK.”

Mark Shorrock, Chief Executive, Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd, said: “The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon provides a scalable blueprint for a UK-led global industry that delivers true value to the nation. Tidal lagoons will employ British industry to harness a British natural resource and return profits to British institutions.”

The planning application was formally accepted for examination in March 2014, with examination closing on 10th December 2014. A recommendation will be referred to the UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change by 10th March 2015.

In December, the project was named in Welsh Government’s Wales National Infrastructure Plan, in HM Treasury’s National Infrastructure Plan and in European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s EU Investment Plan. A stakeholder engagement exercise regarding potential support for the project through the CfD mechanism was launched by DECC on 23rd January 2015.

MRECo to test tidal power at fish research centre

The Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative (MRECo) has entered into an agreement with the Conte Fish Research Center to manage tidal testing in its large flumes in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

The S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Branch is a government facility established to conduct basic and applied scientific studies of fish passage and migration. The Conte Center has the largest flumes in the US and can provide a controlled, instrumented facility for testing turbines as well as studying the impact of turbines on fish.

The Conte flumes offer the first step for in water device testing, with larger devices to be tested at a planned site in the Cape Cod Canal, and full size turbines to be tested at a site in Muskeget Channel. Once fully implemented, NEMEDS would make Massachusetts the only place in the United States that a device could tested through the full process to commercialisation.

John Miller, Executive Director of MRECo, said, "We are very excited to be working with Conte to provide a standard two week test for in stream or tidal turbines, lowering the risk and costs of testing new technologies."

In addition to helping new companies commercialize their technologies, MRECo has partnered with the town of Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard to develop a tidal project in Muskeget Channel, between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

MRECo is a non-profit organization that works to facilitate the growth of marine renewable energy by bridging the gap between academia and industry.It is developing a regional test infrastructure, the New England Marine Energy Development System (NEMEDS) for tidal and wave generation devices to be thoroughly tested so they can withstand the harsh ocean environment.