U.S. Navy turns the tide with $8m technology contract

Could naval tidal power be a new niche for the industry?

By K.Steiner-Dicks on Oct 30, 2014

The US military is committed to investing in renewable energies to power its bases on and offshore. The U.S. Navy in particular has committed to get half of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020. One element of that strategy will be looking to extract energy from tides, currents and waves, according to a group of scientists at the University of Washington.

The Navy is keen to develop marine renewable power for its facilities at sea and along shore, which is why it has called upon the research prowess of The University of Washington, which has been awarded an $8m, four-year contract from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, or NAVFAC, to develop marine renewable energy for use at the Navy’s facilities worldwide.

The goal is to generate energy from the surrounding water at coastal bases, islands or overseas facilities in order to lower costs and increase reliability of the power supply, reported the University.

Advancing existing technologies

“We are advancing existing technologies and concepts so they will perform well at naval facilities and help reach their energy targets,” said lead investigator Andrew Stewart, an engineer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

During the past three months UW mechanical engineering faculty and graduate students have made 3-D printed prototypes of tidal turbines that they will test in the UW’s water channel and with computer modelling studies.

Next they will take the most promising designs and build larger-scale models, about 3 feet across, to test in moving water in 2016. One aim of the project is to develop fast, low-cost ways to evaluate the energy potential at prospective sites.

“We’ve learned that you can’t rely on modelling,” Stewart said. “You need in-water verification of marine energy resources.”

This project is not focused on one specific design but instead will look at different technologies, according to a report by the University.

Naval idea

“The idea is to conduct the research that’s needed to fill the gap between where the technology is now and where it needs to be for the Navy to take maximum advantage of the currents, tides and waves, as well as wind,” Stewart said.

The third aspect of the project is developing low-cost monitoring technology to make environmental monitoring at naval facilities more straightforward.

The team will soon begin to modify the Applied Physics Laboratory’s Henderson research vessel to test small-scale marine energy prototypes, said the report.

The boat, a catamaran barge, was initially built for research on underwater sound. The researcers believe that It is well suited for marine energy work because it is stable and allows researchers to lower equipment off the front of the boat, into water undisturbed by the boat’s wake.

“It’s a pretty big opportunity for us to work on the optimization problems associated with getting these to work in lower-energy environments,” said collaborator Brian Polagye, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

He is leading the development of the 3-D prototypes and the environmental monitoring technology.

“Really what we’re trying to do is develop a new sector of the maritime industry,” Stewart said.