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Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Oceans' Waves Can Power the World

Scientists from the University of Michigan claim a new device, based on the way fish swim, is capable of generating energy from slow-moving currents - enough to effectively power the entire world! Turbines, water mills, and other, existing technologies which generate hydroelectric power rely on currents moving 5+ knots; most of the Earth's rivers and oceans move at ≤ 1 knot (or about 1 mph). Further, the new method is cheaper than even solar- and wind-generated energy!

US governmental grants paid for the research used to develop the Vivace ("vortex-induced vibrations for aquatic clean energy") system, which is a system of cylinders and springs set horizontally to the water flow. The cylinders create vortices from the flow, which propels them up and down. The energy created is then converted into electricity.

The system creates just over 50 watts in a cubic yard (meter), and this amount increases dramatically with more cylinders or faster currents. A field of cylinders about the size of a two-story home could generate enough power to run 100,000 homes, while a few stacked in a short ladder could power a single lighthouse. It would require 50x less space than current technology and cost significantly less, to boot. Further, Vivace is less harmful to the environment and aquatic fauna.

The movements harnessed with the Vivace system were first observed by Leonardo DaVinci some 500 years ago. "If we could harness 0.1 per cent of the energy in the ocean, we could support the energy needs of 15 billion people," said one scientist.

© C Harris Lynn, 2008

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