For Alex Hagmuller and Max Ginsberg, former college roommates, their journey into the marine energy sector began five years ago with an old vacuum cleaner and bicycle parts in Hagmuller’s garage.
Hagmuller was working his first job out of college in Canada. It wasn’t rewarding — Hagmuller said it was the equivalent of being a bean counter, for engineers. He wanted to do something creative, with pioneer spirit. A tinkerer by nature, he took the parts he had and looked for a problem he could solve.
Meanwhile, Ginsberg was in Hawaii. The two began collaborating online when Hagmuller brought Ginsberg in to help design the electrical components and software for a wave energy device. Miles apart, the duo built and tested different prototypes and used what they learned from each iteration to build the next.
After years of hard work, they formed Team AquaHarmonics and recently won $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Wave Energy Prize.
Riding the Wave
Wave energy is one type of marine energy produced by capturing the power from waves and converting it into electricity. The technology could provide significant renewable power generation in the United States, according to the Energy Department, as more than 50 percent of the population lives within 50 miles of a coastline.
Hagmuller said the unique challenge with wave energy is taking something that is high force and low velocity — a wave — and translating it into power. The device he and Ginsberg built is called a point absorber. It generates power on the rise of a wave and then generators act as motors to reel in the device for the next wave cycle. The power is sent ashore through a cable in the mooring line.
Unlike wind and solar, which are burgeoning sources of renewable power on the grid, the wave energy sector is much younger; it’s in its nascent phase. DOE’s Wave Energy Prize is designed to catalyze innovation within the sector.
In addition to awarding the finalists, DOE said it will publish all the data from their prototypes to further advance the sector. That might be even bigger than the prize, Hagmuller said.
Eyes on the prize
DOE’s Wave Energy Prize competition brought together nearly 100 teams of energy innovators and tasked them with doubling the threshold of convertable energy from ocean waves. Four teams ultimately surpassed the goal.
Judges identified nine finalists and two alternates in March. These teams received up to $125,000 to build scaled prototypes of their converter devices. The finalists tested their prototypes at the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Carderock, Maryland.
In addition to AquaHarmonics, DOE awarded two finalists in second and third place. CalWave Power Technologies won $500,000 and Waveswing America won $250,000.
This article was written by LeRoy Coleman, NHA’s Communications Manager