Capturing energy from ocean waves isn’t as straightforward as it might sound—especially as most existing technologies rely on a single axis that requires waves to be moving in one direction to generate enough power. However, Sam Etherington recently invented a device that is able harness the ocean’s energy regardless of which way the water is moving. His tubular design uses a long chain of loosely linked enclosed pistons that generate energy as the chain flexes in the peaks and troughs of each wave.
The cylinders ride the peaks and troughs of waves, which spins concentric shafts working in pairs to push and pull hydraulic fluid (similar way to how a piston works). This double action then creates pressure which is stored in accumulators and released at a capped limit into a hydraulic motor. Etherington, who is an engineering graduate from Brunel University in London, got his inspiration for the device when he was kite surfing off the coast of Cumbria and he noticed that the waves rarely moved in a predictable fashion.
Replicating the unpredictable conditions of the ocean was one of the main challenges when testing the device. Etherington had to use data from buoys moored in the Orkney Islands which were used to create suitable waves in a water tank at Lancaster University. Since then, the engineer’s design has proved so good that it won him the UK round of the James Dyson Award, along with £2,000 (approx. $3230) to create a bigger prototype for further testing. His project will also go through to the international finals where he will compete with 650 entries from 18 countries for a cash prize of £30,000 ($48,450).