OSU harnesses the elements with a buoy

OSU and UW recently created the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC), which is going to be placing three experimental buoys off the Oregon coast. The goal of these buoys? To give drowning people something to grab on to, of course. Oh, also to generate renewable energy.

If you think about it, the gravitational force of the moon is what creates the tides. With a whole ocean moving, that’s a lot of energy right there which is getting wasted. All it does right now is beat rocks into sand, and help surfers out. Which is sandy and fun, but not very helpful to the giant looming energy crisis. You know, the one where the world uses well over 17 billion Megawatt hours of energy per year, and we’re running out things which we can burn to get that energy?

Image of the particle motion of a wave

The spirals aren't there for cuteness; that's the particle motion of water, caused by moving tides. Free mechanical energy!(image from NNMREC)

Long story short, we’ve got to get creative. Or in sciencey terms, smart. Energy is everywhere, and right now it’s being squandered on suntanning and surfing (don’t get me started on the people who use energy to get a tan, in tanning salons).

Lucky for the human race, a hefty chunk of people in the academic world of engineering, and an even bigger chunk of people in the professional world of engineering are working on getting smart really quick. NNMREC is one manifestation of that.

Here’s what they do: they take the mechanical energy of the tides, and induce an electrical current using a coil’s motion around a magnet. By the power of physics, a coil moving through a magnetic field will get an electrical current.

There are a few short flash videos on how that works on the Seagrant OSU website.

Buoys like this can produce as much as 150 kW. To power the whole world with these things, we’d need about 140 billion, but that’s not the plan. The plan is to get energy wherever we can, sustainably—the ocean is just one of many sources. Meanwhile, folks on the other end—the power consumption end—will work to use less energy. That means doing things like moving from incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs (and as of 2012, 100W incandescent bulbs will be illegal; they already are in Europe).

In any case, next time you go out to get a tan on the beach, and go surfing, you might see a buoy being cooler than you. Unless you’re this guy.

Read what I read [+some other stuff]

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