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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-07-05 15:05:17
  • Article ID: 677454

New Mexico Firm Uses Motion of the Ocean to Bring Fresh Water to Coastal Communities

Sandia Labs provides a fourth year of technical help

  • Credit: Photo by Randy Montoya

    Tim Koehler, a Sandia National Laboratories mechanical engineer, is using computational fluid dynamics modeling to help the Santa Fe, New Mexico, company Atmocean with the design of a buoy — shown here in a miniature prototype — that powers a wave energy system to desalinate ocean water for coastal cities. He said he enjoys working with private industry through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program.

  • Credit: Photo courtesy of Atmocean Inc.

    Buoys float off the coast of Ilo, Peru, in a 2015 test of a wave energy system developed by the Santa Fe, New Mexico, company Atmocean with technical help from Sandia National Laboratories. The system powers a desalination plant that provides coastal cities with fresh water.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hurricane Katrina whipped up huge, powerful waves that caused severe destruction in 2005 along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Their size and strength convinced Phil Kithil of Santa Fe, New Mexico, there had to be a way to harness that energy.

His first thought was a device that would use wave action to pump deep, cold seawater to the surface to dampen the intensity of hurricanes, which thrive on warm water. He proved the concept with a simple tube and one-way valve attached to a buoy, but the idea had no commercial potential as hurricanes are unpredictable.

He thought of a second use because the wave-action pump also brought to the surface concentrated ocean nutrients such as phosphate and silicate that promote the growth of phytoplankton. “Phytoplankton take in carbon dioxide to metabolize nutrients and give off oxygen,” Kithil said. “We felt the pumps had a role to play in climate change mitigation.”

But, again, the business potential evaporated when governments participating in the 2009 United Nations Copenhagen Climate conference did not take action that would open carbon markets for the device.

The third idea was the charm. Kithil and his company, Atmocean Inc., founded in 2006, partnered with the Albuquerque engineering firm Reytek Corp. in 2010 to produce a pump system that uses wave power to send pressurized seawater onto shore where it is desalinated without the use of external energy. Kithil said the system has a simple design and can be set up cheaply and in rural settings to provide fresh water for drinking and farming in coastal cities.

Working with scientists at Sandia National Laboratories through the New Mexico Small Business Assistance program, the two companies have tested and advanced the technology and moved it close to market by attracting significant investment. Atmocean recently signed a fourth NMSBA agreement. Small businesses can apply for help through the program once a year. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without Sandia’s help,” said Chris White, Atmocean’s chief operating officer. “It provided us with the backbone of validating our technical improvements so we could go forward.”

Small business program lends a hand with research and development

NMSBA is a public-private partnership among Sandia Labs, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the state of New Mexico that lets small business owners who have a technical challenge work with scientists and engineers at the national labs. Created in 2000 by the state Legislature, the program brings world-class technology and expertise to small companies and promotes economic development with an emphasis on rural areas. NMSBA has provided 2,648 small businesses in all 33 of the state’s counties with more than $53.3 million worth of research hours and materials.

“Many small companies don’t have the resources to do advanced research and development. NMSBA is a great way to give them an R&D hand,” said Jackie Kerby Moore, manager of Technology and Economic Development at Sandia Labs. “National laboratory expertise helps these people realize their dreams and build their businesses, a win-win for the economy.”

Kithil and Phillip Fullam, chief engineer of Reytek, first worked with Sandia Labs’ Rick Givler, a specialist in modeling physical systems, to assess the feasibility of their near-shore wave energy system. Givler proved that, using typical waves and a set number of seawater pumps, considerable pressurized water would reach an onshore reverse osmosis water purification system.

“We needed to know if we would get a dribble at the end or a gusher of pressurized water,” Kithil said. “Rick came up with the answer — a gusher. If it was a dribble we’d have no business. With a gusher we could estimate expenses and profit. That’s how important the Sandia research was. We could take an interesting idea to business feasibility.”

Sandia Labs’ findings have helped Atmocean attract about $3.5 million in investment to continue product testing, add staff and boost component manufacturing at Reytek. The company built full-size seawater pumps and tested the system off the coast of Oregon in 2011 and off Peru for six months in 2015. “The first Peru tests were a big success,” Kithil said. “Other small communities want to see if it will work for them.”

System to be deployed off Newfoundland for operational testing

Atmocean is working now with Sandia Labs engineer Tim Koehler on computational modeling of the wave energy system. Following trials in a test tank at the Texas A&M University Haynes Laboratory, the system will be deployed later in the year off the coast of Newfoundland for a third round of testing that will demonstrate the prototype in an operational environment.

Atmocean’s system is a 200-foot by 200-foot array of pumps floating on the ocean. “Each pump is a buoy on a piston,” Koehler said. “As a wave passes, the buoy ingests sea water, and as the buoy settles, it pumps seawater through hydraulic lines back to shore where it enters the zero-electricity desalination process.”

Water arrives onshore at about 180 psi, or pounds per square inch of pressure. Atmocean uses energy recovery devices — essentially spinning mechanical wheels — to boost 14 percent of the arriving seawater to 900 psi, the pressure needed to run reverse osmosis. The system is the size of a shipping container and is manufactured by Atmocean industry partners. “We supply the pressurized seawater and we work with standard industry-proven technologies on the desalination,” White said.

The system runs 24/7 and production depends on wave action. White said that in southern Peru, in typical ocean conditions, 50 million cubic feet of pressurized water is pushed to shore in a year. Fourteen percent of that is desalinated, producing 5 million cubic feet of fresh water annually that can be used for agriculture or consumption.

Kithil said the system is inexpensive to operate, offers local employment and helps the environment. “Each array of pumps creates a defacto marine protected area with artificial structures that see marine growth,” he said. “The system uses small boats operated by local fishermen who get consistent work. During our full-scale pilots in Peru in 2015, we saw a huge outpouring of support from the local fishing community.”

Ocean forces on buoys

Kithil and Fullam are working with Koehler to improve the pump design. “They want to know what forces the ocean, through the passage of waves, puts on the buoys, so they can optimize their performance and be as efficient as possible,” Koehler said. He is using computational fluid dynamics modeling to evaluate various buoy designs engineered by Reytek and narrowed down through wave pool tests. “I will give them an idea of ocean forces on various pump designs,” he said.

Koehler’s first foray into NMSBA has been eye-opening, he said. “It’s a different application than what I typically work on and uses different software, so it adds some breadth to my experience,” he says. “It’s been a good process in terms of my personal and professional growth. I’m learning more, and it’s nice to help a small business. I like the idea. It’s a good way to help rural communities with clean energy technology.”

After the final demonstration in Newfoundland, Atmocean, which presented the technology at the 2016 United Nations Solutions Summit, will seek a commercial partner. “If all goes well, we’re looking at a year-and-a-half after the tests to reach commercialization,” White said.

Fullam said NMSBA provided needed resources and experience to the company. “The computer modeling tools are something a small company could never afford. We’ve been able to use those resources to answer some rather esoteric questions and generate more questions. The people we’ve dealt with really know what they are doing, and we were able to pinpoint early in the development some key technical issues we wouldn’t have seen. We would have spent a lot of time spinning our wheels. It cut years off the development cycle.”

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Coupling Experiments to Theory to Build a Better Battery

A Berkeley Lab-led team of researchers has reported that a new lithium-sulfur battery component allows a doubling in capacity compared to a conventional lithium-sulfur battery, even after more than 100 charge cycles.

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Using Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan supercomputer, a team led by Brown University's George Karniadakis devised a multiscale model of sickle cell disease that captures what happens inside a red blood cell affected by the disease.

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Conservation Mind Game

A new study led by Kathryn Caldwell, an assistant professor of psychology at Ithaca College, demonstrates that homeowners can be encouraged to make changes to their energy use with a simple education plan and some helpful tricks from the world of social psychology.

X-Rays Reveal 'Handedness' in Swirling Electric Vortices

Scientists used spiraling X-rays at Berkeley Lab to observe, for the first time, a property that gives left- or right-handedness to swirling electric patterns - dubbed polar vortices - in a layered material called a superlattice.

Breaking Bad Metals with Neutrons

By combining the latest developments in neutron scattering and theory, researchers are close to predicting phenomena like superconductivity and magnetism in strongly correlated electron systems. It is likely that the next advances in superconductivity and magnetism will come from such systems, but they might also be used in completely new ways such as quantum computing.

ORNL Researchers Use Titan to Accelerate Design, Training of Deep Learning Networks

For deep learning to be effective, existing neural networks to be modified, or novel networks designed and then "trained" so that they know precisely what to look for and can produce valid results. This is a time-consuming and difficult task, but one that a team of ORNL researchers recently demonstrated can be dramatically expedited with a capable computing system.

Dark Energy Survey Publicly Releases First Three Years of Data

At a special session held during the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington, D.C., scientists on the Dark Energy Survey (DES) announced today the public release of their first three years of data. This first major release of data from the Survey includes information on about 400 million astronomical objects, including distant galaxies billions of light-years away as well as stars in our own galaxy.

Ingredients for Life Revealed in Meteorites That Fell to Earth

A detailed study of blue salt crystals found in two meteorites that crashed to Earth - which included X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab - found that they contain both liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds including hydrocarbons and amino acids.

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Kelsey Stoerzinger Earns Young Investigator Lectureship

Kelsey Stoerzinger, Pauling Fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is one of the 2018 Caltech Young Investigator Lecturers in Engineering and Applied Physics.

North Dakota State University Joins Two National Distributed Computing Groups

The NDSU Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology (CCAST) joins OSG (Open Science Grid) and XSEDE (Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment).

DOE Announces Funding for New HPC4Manufacturing Industry Projects

The Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) today announced the funding of $1.87 million for seven new industry projects under an ongoing initiative designed to utilize DOE's high-performance computing (HPC) resources and expertise to advance U.S. manufacturing and clean energy technologies.

DOE Announces First Awardees for New HPC4Materials for Severe Environments Program

The Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy (FE) today announced the funding of $450,000 for the first two private-public partnerships under a brand-new initiative aimed at discovering, designing and scaling up production of novel materials for severe environments.

Two Argonne Scientists Recognized for a Decade of Breakthroughs

Two scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have been named to the Web of Science's Highly Cited List of 2017, ranking in the top 1 percent of their peers by citations and subject area. Materials Scientist Khalil Amine and Energy and Environmental Policy Scientist David Streets say they are thrilled to see their work -- and the laboratory -- recognized in such a way.

Argonne Welcomes Department of Energy Secretary Perry

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Argonne National Laboratory yesterday, getting a first-hand view of the multifaceted and interdisciplinary research program laboratory of the Department.

Argonne names John Quintana Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations and COO

John Quintana has been named Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations and Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

Developing Next-Generation Sensing Technologies

Recently, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $20 million in funding for 15 projects that will develop a new class of sensor systems to enable significant energy savings via reduced demand for heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings.

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Offshore wind is becoming a reality in the United States, especially in the northeast states. To support this development, the Center for Future Energy System (CFES) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will present a webinar titled "Turbine and Transmission System Technologies for Offshore Wind (OSW) Power Plants." The program will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. Advance registration is required.

LLNL Releases Newly Declassified Nuclear Test Videos

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) released 62 newly declassified videos today of atmospheric nuclear tests films that have never before been seen by the public.

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Exploring Past, Present, and Future Water Availability Regionally, Globally

New open-source software simulates river and runoff resources.

Arctic Photosynthetic Capacity and Carbon Dioxide Assimilation Underestimated by Terrestrial Biosphere Models

New measurements offer data vital to projecting plant response to environmental changes.

DRIFTing to Fast, Precise Data

Non-destructive technique identifies key variations in Alaskan soils, quickly providing insights into carbon levels.

Superconducting Tokamaks Are Standing Tall

Plasma physicists significantly improve the vertical stability of a Korean fusion device.

Graphene Flexes Its Muscle

Crumpling reduces rigidity in an otherwise stiff material, making it less prone to catastrophic failure.

Remotely Predicting Leaf Age in Tropical Forests

New approach offers data across species, sites, and canopies, providing insights into carbon uptake by forests.

What's the Noise Eating Quantum Bits?

The magnetic noise caused by adsorbed oxygen molecules is "eating at" the phase stability of quantum bits, mitigating the noise is vital for future quantum computers.

Rewritable Wires Could Mean No More Obsolete Circuitry

An electric field switches the conductivity on and off in atomic-scale channels, which could allow for upgrades at will.

Filtering Water Better than Nature

Water passes through human-made straws faster than the "gold standard" protein, allowing us to filter seawater.

Machine Learning Provides a Bridge to the Texture of the Quantum World

Machine learning and neural networks are the foundation of artificial intelligence and image recognition, but now they offer a bridge to see and recognize exotic insulating phases in quantum materials.


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