Biologically Inspired Ocean Power


Biological inspiration or biomimetics can help people think outside the box of human engineering. Dr. Tim Finnigan, CEO of BioPower Systems, has taken bio-inspiration literally in his pitch to create the bioWAVE™ and the bioSTREAM™. Both systems try to take advantage of the biophysical properties marine animals and plants have adopted for living in near shore wave and high flow environments. BioPower Systems is using their seed money to build prototype models in an effort to get these ideas to market within two to three years. The BioPower Systems website does a beautiful job of presenting the technology. For a review of how this might stack up in the quickly growing ocean power sector, keep reading.Both designs share the O-DRIVE™ and the bioBASE™ from the same company.

"The O-DRIVE™ combines a simple single-stage reciprocating gear mechanism with a direct-drive synchronous permanent magnet generator and high-inertia flywheel, resulting in continuous delivery of smooth AC power."

The omission of detailed technical specs for the O-DRIVE™ leaves me wondering if this was savvy withholding of information, or if there simply aren't any detailed plans. I'm hopeful the site will be updated soon with this kind of information.

The bioBASE™ is an intriguing anchor/root like concept that potentially improves ease of installation and reduce maintenance to metal structures. A news article reported in Nature this week, found that inserting a graphite rod into marine sediment has the potential to prevent corrosion of marine metal structures. Combine these two concepts into the bioBASE™, and you may have a corrosive resistant, easy to deploy, low maintenance anchor system for other energy concepts as well. This may be the best technology innovation of the bunch.

The bioWAVE™ takes advantage of near shore wave environments. The design appears to be inspired directly by the kelp. There appear to be two specific advantages of this design. First, the device "lies flat against seabed during extreme conditions" which is a good idea to reduce the potential for damage, something most other wave energy platforms do not directly address. Second, the "zero visual impact" may make this technology more palpable for people who do not want big floating buoys.

What is not as clear is how this design self orients to the wave. As a fan shape in water, intuitively I would expect it to turn sidewise to the wave at times, and then stay in that direction, without generating energy- but maybe I’m missing something. The site also explains how it takes advantage of the entire column of water, but the actual benefit of this remains to be proven.

The bioSTREAM™ mimics a sharks tail. It shares the "no visual impact", and I understand how this design self orients to the direction of flow. What I find curious is that the tail will use a processor-controlled fin pitch actuator to create oscillation. I imagine that this actuator will need tweaking depending on current flow conditions, and shape of the tail. Something that sounds tricky to me…

BioPower Systems addresses critical concerns of ocean energy generation not solved by other systems, but also throws out statements such as "lightweight biomimetics construction" without any further explanation. Despite this, I think the system has real possibilities. The vivid and compelling ideas capture the imagination, and it will be hard to wait another year or two before we can see if these ideas are more then just pretty pictures. ::BioPower Systems via World Changing ::Nature 'Mud Battery Stops Marine Rust'