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Ocean Vortices Could Lead to Long-term Renewable Energy

by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Jason_Pic130A new technology aims to extract energy from that which covers 75 percent of the Earth— water. Michigan-based Vortex Hydro Energy is researching the natural motion of ocean currents; in particular, how currents interact with cylinders. Take offshore oil rigs, for example. When water impacts the cables that hold the platforms in place, it creates small vortices. When each vortex dissipates, it creates a vibration that poses a long-term risk to the rig’s structural integrity. But ocean engineer Michael Bernitsas, founder of Vortex Hydro, believes these vortices can be harnessed.

First observed half a millennia ago by Leonardo DaVinci, “Vortex Induced Vibrations” (VIV) could lead to clean, safe, renewable energy. Vortex Hydro calls their approach “Vortex Induced Vibrations Aquatic Clean Energy” (VIVACE). From their site: “By maximizing and exploiting VIV rather than spoiling and preventing it, VIVACE takes this ‘problem’ and transforms it into a valuable resource for mankind.” Addressing a potential concern, Vortex Hydro says, “The VIV phenomenon is non-linear, which means it can produce useful energy at high efficiency over a wide range of current speeds.”


With support from The National Science Foundation, the U.S. Navy, and the Department of Energy (to the tune of 2 million dollars), Vortex Energy is operating their prototype in the Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratory at the University of Michigan.  They hope to begin field tests soon. VIVACE faces governmental regulatory hurdles, but Vortex Energy is confident that the technology’s advantages over similar hydrokinetic-based systems will speed up the process.