MendoCoastCurent, December 9, 2008
SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research and development organization, demonstrated and tested a buoy-mounted, wave powered generator in the ocean near Santa Cruz, Calif. This demonstration was part of a program sponsored by HYPER DRIVE Corporation, a Japanese company focused on the development of wave powered generators around the world. The generator converts energy from ocean waves to electrical energy.
This wave-powered generator is unique in that it uses SRI’s Electroactive Polymer Artificial Muscle (EPAM™) technology, a rubbery material that can generate electricity by simply being stretched and allowed to return to its original shape. This “artificial muscle” technology can generate electricity directly from the motion of waves without the need for complicated and costly hydraulic transmissions that are typically found in other wave-power generators.
In 2004, the technology was licensed exclusively to Artificial Muscle Inc., an SRI spin-off company. HYPER DRIVE has licensed the background technology for wave power generator applications from Artificial Muscle Inc., and application-related technology from SRI International.
An earlier version of the generator was deployed in August 2007, in Tampa Bay, Florida. The Tampa Bay experiment used a generator design that was intended to show how the EPAM™ technology could supply electricity to existing buoys, such as navigation buoys, and eliminate the need to replace large numbers of costly batteries. In today’s experiment, SRI will test a new design that shows how the technology might be used on a buoy intended to harvest larger amounts of power for use on shore or nearby industries.
The EPAM™ technology allows rubbery polymers to change shape in response to applied electrical energy, much like biological muscles change shape in response to an electrical stimulus. As a generator, the technology operates in reverse — changing the shape of the polymer creates electrical energy. Since this solution requires few moving parts and is based on relatively low-cost polymers, there is great potential for low-cost production of electricity.
“In our first demonstration we proved that SRI’s wave-powered generator could be mounted on a typical buoy and operate in a marine environment,” said Philip von Guggenberg, director of business development, SRI International. “For this demonstration, we will test a new design that we anticipate will produce greater amounts of energy in harbors and bays, as well as unprotected ocean waters. For this reason, this year’s test location was selected to be off the coast of Northern California.”
“HYPER DRIVE is excited to see the new wave powered buoy design and the results it will produce,” said Shuji Yonemura, CEO, HYPER DRIVE. “We look forward to seeing this technology at work in an ocean environment.”
Although the power output of the buoy is still quite modest, the same basic design can be used to produce significantly greater amounts of power. The long-term goal of this development is to design a system that will supply electricity to the buoy or to feed the power grid on land. The wave powered generator tested today in the Pacific Ocean could, in time, produce many kilowatts of power from a relatively small buoy.
HYPER DRIVE Corporation, founded in 2006, is a venture-backed startup company based in Tokyo, Japan. The company is focused on the application of EPAM™ to wave power generation. HYPER DRIVE is the only company to commercially develop SRI’s EPAM™ technology for wave powered generation. The company is planning large scale (hundreds of watts or several kilowatts) sea trials in Japan in the near future. HYPER DRIVE has been developing other water-based EPAM™ generators including a watermill generator, and continues to focus on developing power-generating systems using water, wind, and other renewable energy. In December 2007, HYPER DRIVE won the “best paper award” at the Eco Design Fifth International Symposium on Environmentally Conscious Design and Inverse Manufacturing.
Artificial Muscle, Inc. (AMI) is a high-technology company that designs and manufactures actuator and sensing components based on the new technology platform called electroactive polymer artificial muscle (EPAM™). AMI was founded by SRI International, which is a Silicon Valley nonprofit research and development institute that has a history of more than 60 years of developing advanced technologies, to exclusively commercialize artificial muscle technology. EPAM™ technology was developed at SRI over a 12-year period. AMI became an independent company in early 2004 with venture fund financing from Vanguard Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and NGEN Partners.