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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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Protecting the Power Grid: Advanced Plasma Switch Can Make the Grid More Efficient for Long-Distance Power Transmission

Article describes PPPL research to help General Electric design a high-voltage power switch for converting DC current to AC current over long-distance power transmission lines.

More Workers Working Might Not Get More Work Done, Ants (and Robots) Show

For ants and robots operating in confined spaces like tunnels, having more workers does not necessarily mean getting more work done. Just as too many cooks in a kitchen get in each other's way, having too many robots in tunnels creates clogs that can bring the work to a grinding halt.

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Swirling dense metallic hydrogen dominates the interiors of Jupiter, Saturn and many extra-solar planets. Building precise models of these giant planets requires an accurate description of the transition of pressurized hydrogen into this metallic substance - a long-standing scientific challenge. In a paper published by Science, a research team led by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory describes optical measurements of the insulator-to-metal transition in fluid hydrogen, resolving discrepancies in previous experiments and establishing new benchmarks for calculations used to construct planetary models. The multi-institution team included researchers from the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, University of Edinburgh, University of Rochester, Carnegie Institution of Washington, University of California, Berkeley and The George Washington University.

Light-Emitting Nanoparticles Could Provide a Safer Way to Image Living Cells

A research team has demonstrated how light-emitting nanoparticles, developed at Berkeley Lab, can be used to see deep in living tissue. Researchers hope they can be made to attach to specific components of cells to serve in an advanced imaging system that can pinpoint even single cancer cells.

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The 1987 Montreal Protocol and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol called for countries around the world to phase out substances that deplete the ozone layer and cause global warming, but many HVAC systems still use synthetic refrigerants that violate those international agreements and inflict environmental damage. Recently, Iranian researchers investigated how natural refrigerants could be used in geothermal heat pumps to reduce energy consumption and operating costs. They report their findings in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

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A team of scientists has uncovered new molecular properties of water--a discovery of a phenomenon that had previously gone unnoticed.

Algorithm Provides Early Warning System for Tracking Groundwater Contamination

Scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Savannah River National Laboratory have developed a low-cost method for real-time monitoring of pollutants using commonly available sensors.

Protons Get Zippier in Neutron-Rich Nuclei

A new study carried out at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has confirmed that increasing the number of neutrons as compared to protons in the atom's nucleus also increases the average momentum of its protons. The nuclear physics result, which has implications for the dynamics of neutron stars, has been published in the journal Nature.

Sight Unseen: Novel Method Detects Evidence of Unmarked Human Graves

A new approach to find unmarked gravesites could help narrow the scope and potentially speed up the search for clues during crime scene investigations. Geospatial researchers with the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and forensic scientists at University of Tennessee used LIDAR to detect telltale signs of recently buried human remains.

UT-ORNL team makes first particle accelerator beam measurement in six dimensions

The first full characterization measurement of an accelerator beam in six dimensions will advance the understanding and performance of current and planned accelerators around the world.


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American Physical Society Publishes 60th Anniversary Edition of the Review of Particle Physics

The latest edition of the Review of Particle Physics, a go-to resource for particle physicists published Aug. 17 in the American Physical Society's Physical Review D journal, marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Berkeley Lab-based Particle Data Group that produces the Review.

CSUMB Selected to Host Architecture at Zero Competition in 2019

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and the American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC) announced the eighth annual Architecture at Zero competition for zero net energy (ZNE) building designs will be held at CSUMB in 2019.

DOE funds 13 projects under fifth round of HPC4Manufacturing Progaram

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which manages the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) Program to use supercomputers to advance U.S. manufacturing, today announced the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded nearly $3.8 million for 13 industry projects under the program.

Four Argonne transportation and fuel experts collect Dept. of Energy honors

Four researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have earned Distinguished Achievement awards for helping to reimagine transportation, sustainability and mobility.

From Hurricane Katrina Victim to Presidential Awardee: A SUNO Professor's Award-Winning Mentoring Efforts

Undergraduate students of Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) biology professor Murty Kambhampati come to Brookhaven Lab during the summer to conduct research in natural resource management.

SNS completes full neutron production cycle at record power level

The Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has reached a new milestone by operating a complete neutron production run cycle at 1.3 megawatts. Achieving the record power level with a remarkable 94 percent accelerator beam availability establishes a new baseline of operation as well as a path to operate reliably at higher powers. Increased power offers researchers the ability to conduct faster scientific analyses using neutrons on more types of materials.

Milsmann earns prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Carsten Milsmann, assistant professor in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry at West Virginia University, has earned the National Science Foundation's prestigious CAREER Award for research that could help develop solar energy applications that are more efficient and cheaper to produce.

46th annual SLAC Summer Institute celebrates Standard Model at 50

The event attracted 124 participants and explores the successes and challenges of the theory that describes subatomic particles and fundamental forces.

UW, PNNL to host energy research center focusing on bio-inspired design and assembly

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded an expected $10.75 million, four-year grant to the University of Washington, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and other partner institutions for a new interdisciplinary research center to define the enigmatic rules governing how molecular-scale building blocks assemble into ordered structures & hierarchical materials.

Argonne among 10 recipients of competitive grant for ultrafast science

Argonne has been awarded U.S. Department of Energy funds to probe materials and chemical processes on time scales of a quadrillionth of a second or less.


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Deep Learning Stretches Up to Scientific Supercomputers

Collaboration powers machine learning software that performs data analytics on petabyte-sized data sets in series of successful test runs.

Complex Networks Identify Genes for Biofuel Crops

Systems biology leads the way to exascale computing on Summit supercomputer.

Quantum Computing of an Atomic Nucleus

The first-ever computation of an atomic nucleus, the deuteron, on a quantum chip demonstrates that even today's rudimentary quantum computers can solve nuclear physics questions.

New Approach Yields High-Purity Radium for Medical Applications

Proton-irradiated thorium targets are successfully mined for therapeutic radium isotopes.

Steering Light with Dynamic Lens-on-MEMS

Scientists add active control to design capabilities for new lightweight flat optical devices.

Sugar-Coated Sheets Selectively Target Pathogens

Researchers design self-assembling nanosheets that mimic the surface of cells.

Tracking Down Helium-4's Quarks and Gluons

Scientists obtain the first exclusive measurement of deeply virtual Compton scattering of electrons off helium-4, vital to obtaining an unambiguous 3-D view of quarks and gluons within nuclei.

Predicting Magnetic Explosions: From Plasma Current Sheet Disruption to Fast Magnetic Reconnection

Supercomputer simulations and theoretical analysis shed new light on when and how fast reconnection occurs.

Is Nature Exclusively Left Handed? Using Chilled Atoms to Find Out

Elegant techniques of trapping and polarizing atoms open vistas for beta-decay tests of fundamental symmetries, key to understanding the most basic forces and particles constituting our universe.

As Future Batteries, Hybrid Supercapacitors Are Super-Charged

A new supercapacitor could be a competitive alternative to lithium-ion batteries.


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