Ostend buoy rides out the storm to generate power

Summary

A company from Ostend has developed a turbine that can harness energy from the waves and withstand even the roughest storms

Sea of power

Generating energy from the waves is an idea as old as time. For years, Flemish and international engineers have been using Ostend’s coastline to test the next generation of renewable energy technologies – only to have their lab models break down when exposed to the North Sea.

A local company claims to have a found a sustainable solution. “When most people think about energy from the sea, the first that thing comes to their mind is waves,” says Steven Nauwelaerts, technical expert at Laminaria. “But the back-and-forth movement of water is actually stronger than the up-and-down movement. Our model can use both motions to generate energy.”

The turbine looks like a typical buoy. “The difference is that our buoy floats just beneath the surface of the water,” explains Nauwelaerts, who previously worked for the port of Ostend and Ghent University. “It moves along with the water, and the motion is transferred via a special anchor rope to a generator that transforms it into energy.”

This is the easy part, says Nauwelaerts. The real challenge lies in ensuring that the buoy survives in the hostile environment of the North Sea. “At sea, weather conditions change quickly. The technology needs to withstand storms, which makes them heavy, inefficient and expensive.”

Laminaria’s turbines don’t fight storms, they hide from them. “Water currents are strongest at the surface,” says Nauwelaerts. “Our machine can dive deeper when the water gets rough. It can wait out the storm, while continuing to produce energy. That’s what makes it unique.”

The potential for maritime energy is huge. The European Union’s long-term goal is to generate between 30 and 50 megawatts from sea power. “That’s more than we can handle, but we aim to play an important role in the story of the maritime energy,” says Nauwelaerts.

Laminaria's first prototype is ready. “Next year, we’ll install the first turbines off the coast of Scotland.”

What about Flanders? “The waves aren’t strong enough,” says Nauwelaerts. “Because our turbines can withstand rough conditions, we’re aiming for wilder waters for now.”

Photo courtesy Laminaria