A wave energy project in Britain is using the animal kingdom for inspiration  

Energy

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Some £7.5 million ($10.33 million) of public funding will be used to support the development of eight wave energy projects led by U.K. universities, including one inspired by marine life, in a bid to boost the sector’s efficiency and resilience over the coming years.

The money will come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), an organization sponsored by the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The funded research will be centered around wave energy converters, or WECs. According to Ocean Energy Europe (OEE), these devices are able to “capture the physical movement of swells and waves and transform it into energy – usually electricity.”

The projects to receive backing are varied. One, for instance, has taken inspiration from nature and will benefit from a £975,000 grant.

Led by the University of Strathclyde’s Qing Xiao, it will look into the potential of using “flexible materials inspired by the fins and other body parts of aquatic animals” in wave energy converters.

In a statement issued on the university’s website Wednesday, Xiao explained there were a number of benefits when it came to using a flexible material in the structures of WECs.

She added: “The adaptive shape feature may allow the device to deform in extreme wave events, contributing to reductions of peak wave load and increases in device fatigue life, thus extending the device’s survivability compared with rigid body WECs.”

Another project to receive funding will analyze WECs which use “deformable materials, such as flexible fabrics.” Led by academics from the University of Plymouth, University of Southampton and University of Oxford, it’s received a grant of £984,000.

While there is excitement regarding the future of WECs, there are undoubted hurdles which need to be overcome before they make a wider impact. According to UKRI, their wider deployment is “hampered by challenges such as their ability to survive in extreme weather conditions and their efficiency.”

Wave energy’s current footprint is small, too. Recent figures from OEE show that just 200 kilowatts of capacity was installed in Europe last year.

By contrast, 2020 saw 14.7 gigawatts of wind energy capacity installed in Europe, according to industry body WindEurope.

Indeed, while the International Energy Agency describes marine technologies as holding “great potential,” it adds that extra policy support is required for research, design and development in order to “enable the cost reductions that come with the commissioning of larger commercial plants.”

Change could be on the way, however, with the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, wanting the capacity of ocean energy technologies to hit 100 megawatts by 2025 and at least 1 gigawatt by 2030.

Back in the U.K. — which left the EU on Jan. 31, 2020 — Lynn Gladden, the EPSRC’s executive chair, appeared optimistic about the future.

“As a source of renewable power, marine wave energy would complement existing wind and solar technologies and help to provide a balanced supply,” she said.

“By overcoming challenges to effective marine wave energy technologies, the projects will help to unlock a valuable source of renewable energy,” Gladden added.

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