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Wave power startup tests Mass. waters


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Bill Staby, CEO, Resolute Marine Energy Inc.
Friday, January 2, 2009

Wave power startup tests Mass. waters

By Efrain Viscarolasaga

Wave power startup Resolute Marine Energy Inc. is expected this week to take its first step toward the commercialization of its energy converter as it drops a working test unit into the water two miles off Newburyport.

The test, expected to last three to four days, comes as part of a larger project aimed at developing deep ocean aquaculture farms that would run autonomously, led by Ocean Farm Technologies Inc. of Searsmont, Maine.

The tests will measure wave and underwater currents, as well as potential energy created by Watertown-based Resolute’s wave power device. While the data will be directly applicable to Ocean Farm Technologies’ offshore “aquaculture pen,” it will also be vital to Resolute’s presentation of its technology in other potential markets, said founder and CEO Bill Staby.

There are many different designs in wave power. Resolute’s is based on a “point absorber” model, which comprises a floating buoy and fixed underwater platform. As waves move the buoy up and down, the pumping action is converted into energy. In the case of the Ocean Farm Technologies project, that energy would be converted into compressed air, which is expected to run systems on the aquaculture farm, or pod. Such activities could include automated feeding and monitoring equipment.

“As marine aquaculture moves farther offshore, there is an increasing need to automate operating systems, which will require autonomous and sustained power sources,” said Steve Page, founder and president of Ocean Farm Technologies.

The test, which is being funded through a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a seminal moment for Resolute Marine Energy, said Staby, but doesn’t represent the company’s full potential. The firm has its eye on other applications, including offshore oil rigs, manned and unmanned research facilities and off-grid island communities.

“In order to gain traction in this market, you need to establish a foothold in offshore power solutions in a broad sense, rather than grid-connected power, which is two or three years — or even a decade — away,” said Staby. MIT professor Cliff Goudey and his MIT Sea Grant Offshore Aquaculture Engineering Center are also subcontractors on the federally funded project.

That, of course, does not mean Resolute will not be chasing grid-connected power when the world is ready. Right now, said Staby, the industry is very young. His two-person firm recently filed patent applications on a new kind of wave-energy converter that he hopes, when the time comes, will help make larger scale, grid connected wave power a reality. For now  however, he is keeping the technological innovations under wraps.

Resolute’s test also comes in the wake of a newly proposed offshore wind-and-wave-power farm off the coasts of Nantucket and Block Island, which was announced earlier this week. Seattle-based Grays Harbor Ocean Energy Co. is seeking permits to build 100 offshore wind platforms, each with a wave converter, on two sites more than a dozen miles south of the respective New England island communities.

While the proposal is still in its infancy, and Resolute’s technology is not associated with that project, Staby said the hybrid mentality of such an undertaking is wave power’s best bet to become a mainstream part of the alternative energy portfolio.

Many experts feel that the calmer Atlantic Ocean makes the East Coast less attractive for wave power than the more active Pacific, according to John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at UMass Dartmouth in Fall River, an incubator where Resolute occupied an office until earlier this year. But hybrid solutions, he said, such as wave and wind, could have an impact locally.

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