The battle to construct what could be the next major thing in the renewable energy began in a garage in Colorado. For a wave energy experiment, the designers had gathered roughly $100 worth of tubing, rubber, and valves. In 2017, they utilized the materials to make a small, inflatable pump. They then tethered it to the bottom of the shallow body of water, causing it to bob beneath the water’s surface. The pump’s flexible diaphragm would be pushed in by the pressure from waves passing over it.
The air inside a pump compressed and pushed water into a tube. A one-way valves system kept the water inside the tube moving as the springy diaphragm restored its old shape, preparing for the next wave. A mechanical engineer at National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dale Jenne, said, “I’ve always been fiddling.” As a teenager, he began interacting with light and flexible materials by repairing early Chevrolet Corvette fiberglass bodies.
Years later, Jenne was summoned to help other NREL scientists working on a fresh version of an old idea, and his work on sports vehicles sprang to mind. In an interview, Jenne revealed that they were attempting to turn the vast amounts of power in ocean waves “into some kind of useful form of work.”
Many corporations had attempted, but their wave generating projects, some of which cost millions of dollars, had generally failed. By 2015, harnessing solar and wind energy had become large companies, but wave energy remained a pipe dream. Steel was used to construct the majority of the early gadgets. They were often constructed to withstand the beating and corrosion of the ocean waves, much like military tanks. So, the idea of extracting wave power with lightweight, low-cost materials was revolutionary.
As a result, Jenne and his co-inventor, Yi-Hsiang Yu, who is an NREL researcher, opted to develop the first prototype in Jenne’s garage with their own money. “It wasn’t just an outlandish concept. “We wanted to know how to do it correctly,” Jenne explained. The pump was operational. The concept of receiving energy from a small, wave-powered gadget has now grown into one of the Department of Energy’s major competitions.
The project is dubbed “Waves to Water,” and the idea is to use wave energy to be able to desalinate saltwater. The challenge, which began in 2019 with a prize pool of $3.3 million, required 5 stages of the competition to find the greatest wave energy gadgets. The winners must offer devices that can “survive strong wave conditions,” fit into conventional shipping containers, and be installed within a period of 48 hours of a coastal calamity like a hurricane that knocks out power.
Isn’t that a ridiculous thought? The victims of Hurricane Ida’s enormous outage and resulting drinking water shortage in New Orleans may disagree. Neither did the 65 teams from organizations and colleges from all over the world who competed in the NREL competition. Among them are various entrepreneurs who have been developing small wave-powered gadgets since 2012. They’ve competed in 4 stages so far: proposing a wave-powered system, developing a detailed design and model, figuring out how to test it, and finally demonstrating that it works. Soon, NREL will choose four to six of the earlier stage finalists to build up their systems and battle. Jennette’s Pier, a 1,000-foot-long fishing dock in Nags Head, North Carolina, will be used.