Riding the Waves

November 30, 2009

Human beings have harnessed energy from nature for all of recorded history, but one potential source remains largely misunderstood and therefore unused: ocean waves.

Brian Mann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, says that this is because of nature's nonlinearity: Wave amplitude changes with the wind and tides. And unlike the water wheel, which uses a flowing stream to make kinetic energy, there is no easy way to harvest the potential energy of vast stretches of ocean.

Mann created specially designed buoys as prototypical energy-harvesting devices and placed them into a customized wave pool he had installed in his Hudson Hall laboratory earlier this year. In designing the buoys, he says he's taken into account "the challenges of real ocean environments, such as wave height and frequency and wind speeds, all of which can change considerably in a short period of time."

Someday, he hopes, they will be used as local power sites for ships at sea or as portable, self-powered coastal-observation tools currently unavailable to environmental researchers.

Riding the Waves

Les Todd