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Queen's University Energy Partnership Makes Waves for UK

The likelihood of the UK being able to produce widespread energy from wave-generated power has been given a vital boost.

Queen's University Belfast and marine energy company Aquamarine Power Limited have agreed to take part in a new five-year research partnership that will develop a next generation hydro-electric wave power converter.

Already the partnership has created the Oyster wave power device (see image of Aquamarie staff visiting the full-scale prototype, above), designed to capture the energy found in amplified surge forces in nearshore waves.

The first prototype of Oyster, a hydro-electric wave power converter, is to be launched at sea for the first time this summer at the European Marine Energy Centre off the coast of Orkney.

The Oyster system consists of a simple steel oscillating wave surge converter, or pump, fitted with double acting water pistons, deployed near-shore in depths around 10-12m. Each passing wave activates the pump, which delivers high pressure water via a sub-sea pipeline to the shore.

Onshore, high-pressure water is converted to electrical power using proven, conventional hydro-electric generators. The nearshore location is easy to access and the most complex part of the system is onshore, so it is accessible 365 days a year (see diagram, below).

The latest five-year deal will see Aquamarine work alongside the Environmental Engineering Research Centre at Queen's. The team from Aquamarine will model several devices in the wave tanks in the University's Civil Engineering Department and at the Marine Biology Centre at Portaferry.

Led by Professor Trevor Whittaker from Queen's School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering, the Wave Power Research Group is regarded as being among the best marine renewable energy groups in the world and Oyster will be the Centre's sixth wave power sea trial.

The team will monitor loading, survivability and how the devices interact with each other to guarantee continuous power output in all sea states.

The partnership will also provide Aquamarine with access to a second, larger wave tank due to open at Queen's Portaferry facility. The tank is being part-funded through the University's Institute for a Sustainable World initiative.

The Portaferry facility will allow the team to test groups of wave power devices that could be deployed in large numbers to form off-shore power stations.

Professor Trevor Whittaker, Head of the Wave Power Research Centre and an expert on wave power and coastal engineering said that his team at the university "specializes in the application of fundamental research to industrial development. Therefore I am very pleased to strengthen our links with Aquamarine Power, one of the world's leaders in marine renewable energy.

"It provides focus for the work of our research students, giving them an opportunity to participate in cutting edge research that will benefit society and the environment for current and future generations," he continued.

Aquamarine Power was recently named "Emerging Technology Promoter of the Year" at the Global Renewable Energy Awards, also know as the "Green Oscars." The Euromoney and Ernst & Young awards take place alongside the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in London each fall.

Martin McAdam, chief executive of Aquamarine is enthusiastic about the partnership. "This agreement creates a fantastic opportunity on two fronts. Firstly it provides Aquamarine with access to the University's world-class wave power test facilities, enabling Aquamarine to continue to enhance the design of Oyster as a market leading technology, and as importantly, gives us access to the brightest PhD students in this field," he said.

Queen's latest PhD graduate has recently joined Aquamarines staff and the company has said that it is committed to continued investment in high quality post-graduate training. The partnership will ensure that the brightest PhD students at Queen's will have the opportunity to work with professionals at Aquamarine and may ultimately join the company's rapidly growing team of experts.

In the last six months, Aquamarine has doubled in size with a quarter of its staff holding PhDs.

Lisa Mitchell is senior press officer for marketing, recruitment and communications at Queens University Belfast.

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