CAROL FLETCHER, The Record, November 29, 2009
Now the research and development team needs funding to analyze five days of data from a landmark test of the 12-foot cylindrical prototype and build a life-size version.
“We have to scale up and make a commercial unit,” said Linda Rutta, but “the costs ahead are larger than a small entity can shoulder.”
Able Technologies is based in the Ruttas’ Englewood home, where the couple designed what they call an electricity-generating wave pipe with the help of colleagues in mechanical and oceanic engineering after patenting their concept in 2002.
Devices harnessing kinetic energy from ocean waves, known as wave energy converters, are not new and can be problematic. Online organizations reported in March that three devices installed off the coast of Portugal by a Scottish developer were taken ashore due to structural problems and lack of funding.
The Scottish devices are horizontal, serpentine structures that undulate in sync with the waves, whereas the Ruttas’ version anchors vertically to the ocean floor.
That means the machine has to stand up to the fierce oceanic conditions much like a bridge stanchion. These include the very force it captures in trying to produce enough electricity to be viable, said Rutta.
The Ruttas got their first opportunity to test the prototype’s endurance and energy production in mid-November, at the Ohmsett Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Facility at Leonardo in Monmouth County. The facility operates under the U.S. Department of Interior and runs a massive, 11-foot-deep wave tank for testing oil spill response equipment. This year it added wave energy technology.
The agency offered the Ruttas a week at Ohmsett after finding merit in a white paper the Ruttas submitted on the technology.
Every day for a week, the wave pipe was fitted with probes and other sensory equipment while being battered with saltwater waves up to 3 feet high. The purpose was to measure how it performed against small waves — which might have made it stall — and high ones, and whether it delivered energy, said Rutta.
“It worked with the waves beautifully — that was my happiest surprise,” said Rutta, “and it produced power. It exceeded our expectations.”
The week’s worth of results will be analyzed to determine the weight and size a commercial unit should be to withstand ocean conditions and estimate how much electricity could be produced, Rutta said.
While the tests raise their credibility, she said, funding is needed to analyze the data and design and build a full-size prototype.
Rutta said she is waiting for word on their application for a $150,000 grant from the small business arm of the Department of Energy to analyze the data. Designing and building a commercial-sized prototype could be “in the millions,” she said.
All money up to this point has come from their personal savings, said Rutta, and has reached “into the six figures.”