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Carderock supports energy innovation with Wave Energy Prize tests

By Dustin Q. Diaz, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division Public Affairs | Aug. 29, 2016

West Bethesda, Md. —

Employees at Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Carderock Division, and members of private industry began testing game-changing improvements in the efficiency of wave energy conversion (WEC) devices by effectively capturing more energy from ocean waves Aug. 8.

The Wave Energy Prize is a public prize competition open to all U.S. entities, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and supported by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and NSWC Carderock Division. Carderock established an interagency agreement with DOE spring 2014 and contest registration began April 2015. The contest will run 20 months from beginning to end, including design, building and testing.

Carderock employees account for this phase's test directors, signal conditioning and data acquisition, general logistics team, mooring team and optical tracking team. Dave Newborn, an ocean engineer with Carderock's Maritime Systems Hydromechanics Branch, said he and Miguel Quintero, an ocean engineer with the Full-Scale Trials Branch, have been involved throughout the process -- including writing the competition rules, serving as judges and test directors, and providing technical and logistical support for contestants and program identified partners like the Sandia National Laboratory (SNL) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado.

Given the large number of initial applicants to the Wave Energy Prize, Dr. Dylan Temple, an engineer with the Seakeeping and Testing Branch, also served as a judge for technology gate one, the initial application stage.

"There's been a colossal effort by Miguel and I, other Carderock employees and a number of other entities to make all this happen," Newborn said. "If you look at the [organization] chart, it gets pretty expansive pretty quickly, but it's very much a collaborative project."

Previous stages, called technology gates, in the Wave Energy Prize involved competitors designing different archetypes for WEC devices, such as point absorbers, line absorbers and terminators. The Wave Energy Prize involved building and numerically modeling the devices, and testing prototypes built to 1/50 scale. Newborn said this has narrowed down the original 68 competitors to the nine currently conducting tests on 1/20-scale prototypes in the Maneuvering and Seakeeping (MASK) Basin in preparation for the fourth and final gate.

"The reason the testing has moved here at this stage is that no one has a facility this large that can generate waves of this size to get the appropriate scale for the devices," Newborn said. "The DOE came to us because of the big tank, the big waves we can make, and the expertise we have here. There's a lot of money at stake here. With a vital program like this one, the data has to be as thorough and accurate as possible."

With this testing, each competing team ships its equipment to the West Bethesda facility -- where Newborn, Quintero and their team spend a week helping them to unpack the shipping containers, set up a work environment, reassemble their devices, conduct spot checks to ensure instrumentation is working properly and address any issues that are found. The equipment then goes in the basin during the second week to expose the WECs to 10 different wave conditions simulating different environmental conditions, and conduct tests to compute the metrics for the prize. Newborn said this dynamic is different from the testing usually done in the MASK -- instead of being a 10-week test, he said, they are essentially conducting nine one-week tests. When each test is complete, data analysts from program identified partners (SNL and NREL) verify the finished data and ensure its legitimacy.

"With this type of testing, the routine is that there is no routine," Newborn said. "What you have to do to commission a device to be ready for testing is different for every team and every device. We did a dry-run test before testing to prepare for that, and we've learned a lot as we go. A lot of work goes into ensuring we are providing the same level of support to all the teams."

With wave energy in its infancy, the goal of the Wave Energy Prize is to determine which archetype of device is best to move forward with. Newborn compared it to the development of wind energy, with several different formats and methods competing until today's standard was found. One of the metrics each team is judged on is how much energy their WEC absorbs, but equally important, Newborn said, is how much it costs to get that energy. Providing value to the taxpayer is the emphasis, and he said it can be a tough balancing act for the competitors.

"It's about what it costs to get the power; not just getting renewable energy, but doing it at a cost that makes sense," Newborn said.

The $1 million prize at stake is incentivizing the pursuit of this efficiency, as well as attracting top talent to the competition, according to Newborn. Only U.S. entities such as corporations, small businesses and start-ups are permitted to compete, but these entities may bring in expertise via qualified foreign nationals and many do.

"DOE is very happy with the kind of collaboration they got between experts who were eager to use their expertise in this field and the teams who were looking to add people with those capabilities," Newborn said. "I think it's worked out pretty well for them."

Carderock's support of the Wave Energy Prize has brought unexpected but welcome benefits to the command, such as the development of the underwater optical tracking system used in the tests, Newborn said. The underwater system provides six degrees of freedom motions of rigid bodies and 3-D translations of points on the surface of bodies. The ability to track motions for submerged or surface-piercing bodies is a significant capability enhancement across a wide range of hydrodynamic testing performed at Carderock.

"We reverse engineered the system to work underwater; it has never worked underwater anywhere before," Newborn said. "We formed a CRADA (Cooperative Research and Development Agreement) with the company that develops the hardware. What we've learned about putting it underwater they can learn from, and we can learn from them as well."

The ultimate goal, as the underwater system is tuned and modified for use at Carderock, is to establish a flexible, reconfigurable motion-capture system that could track bodies in the entire MASK basin and sections of the other basins around base.

The development of an emerging technology like wave energy fulfills Carderock's congressional charter, which states the command not only supports Navy operations and research and development, but the maritime industry as well -- as stated in OPNAV Notice 5450, 23 December 1991. Newborn said the final test in this phase of the Wave Energy Prize is scheduled to end Oct. 7, and should one of the teams meet all the requirements and win the contest, it will be announced in November. For more information on the Wave Energy Prize, visit http://waveenergyprize.org/about/.