From waves to electricity
Reza Alam, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, studies how mechanical devices might convert ocean waves into electricity. In 2012, visiting graduate student Marcus Lehmann joined Alam’s Theoretical and Applied Fluid Dynamics Lab. His designs for a working prototype helped spark Alam’s lab to begin building a machine to harness wave energy, which they call a Wave Carpet.
There is enough energy in the waves hitting the nation’s coastline to power millions of homes per year. But harnessing that energy is complicated: wave heights and frequencies can vary wildly over time and from one shoreline to another, seawater is highly corrosive, and storms can turn reliable and predictable waves into battering rams.
The Wave Carpet is a seafloor-based device that absorbs ocean wave energy and converts it into mechanical energy that can generate electricity. When activated by waves, the device’s highly flexible membrane drives a series of vertical double-action pumps to pressurize and push seawater through a discharge pipe to power a shore-based turbine.
In 2014, with help from Alam, Lehmann led the Wave Carpet team’s effort to land a two-year $500,000 grant from Cyclotron Road, the Berkeley Lab’s clean energy incubator, to support continued work on its wave energy converter. The team filed for a U.S. patent in 2012. This year, Lehmann says the team plans to put a demonstration device in the sea.