Groningers catch electricity from the sea
Waves provide much more energy than the wind and sun. Moreover, they are always there, even when it's not windy or nighttime. The Groningen startup Ocean Grazer devised an ingenious system for harvesting and storing wave energy.
Pressure difference. That’s the simple physical basis that underlies this revolutionary idea. What if it is possible to build up a pressure difference with the force of waves and use it to set turbines in motion? This is what Wout Prins must have thought when he laid the foundation for what is now a PLC: Ocean Grazer.
Waves set pumps in motion that hang under floats on the ocean. The pressure that is built up in this way is converted into electricity. And this is electricity that also can be stored on site if necessary. “A huge challenge for us was the technology to control this generated energy,” says Marijn van Rooij, co-founder of Ocean Grazer. “Each wave is unique. We use sensors to predict how much energy an oncoming wave contains and adjust the floats accordingly.”
The tests are a resounding success. The efficiency of the system is unprecedented. This was first evident on a lab scale, and since recently now also evident in a slightly larger set-up, in a separate building on the Zernike Campus. The idea evolved into a company, almost ready to storm the market. With people who firmly believe in the invention and the impact it can have on the world.
Marijn van Rooij is the personification of this energy. He project-led the research, saw the potential and founded the company, where he now holds the position of Chief Technology Officer. “In order to get closer to the market, we made a very clear cut, two actually. We are talking about Ocean Battery, Ocean Foundation and Ocean Power. They are three different parts that can be put together, but they are also interesting enough on their own. If we really want to make a difference, and we do, we have to make sure that our invention is used on a large scale.”
Solution for storage problem
Ocean Power is the actual harvesting of wave energy. The Ocean Battery is an invention that also receives a lot of attention worldwide. In the scaffolding to which the floats are attached, there is room at the bottom of the sea for a kind of enormous bellows. The energy of the sea inflates the bellows. As soon as the sea crushes it again, the energy is released, which then runs turbines and generates electricity.
“The importance of this can’t be overestimated,” says CEO Frits Bliek. He was brought in with his extensive experience of commercialising new energy systems to market this new idea. “The Ocean Grazer is so good and promising because it also offers a solution to the problem of energy storage.”
Power when it suits
The efficiency of this storage is as great as the very best battery. “Only a lot more. With the rise of more and more renewable energy being fed back into the grid, storage is a growing problem. We have the solution. An additional advantage is that we store the energy on location and can use it as soon as it’s necessary. This way, you can continue to make optimal use of the network infrastructure that already exists everywhere. Think of it as a motorway access fee. We supply power when it suits. This way you can avoid having to build an expensive third or fourth lane.”
The third leg of the company, the Ocean Foundation, is also attracting interest. In order for the whole system to work, a concrete base must be placed on the seabed. Van Rooij: “Just like windmills at sea, for example. In fact, a windmill can be placed on our foundation. The difference is that in ours, energy is stored and modules can be connected, such as Ocean Power.”
The market is crying out for it
The Ocean Grazer is a spin-off from the University of Groningen. More than sixty bachelor’s and master’s students have been graduating from research into it since 2014. Professors Antonis Vakis and Bayu Jayawardhana have been involved from day one. Knowledge is always at hand. And yet the startup must slowly but surely move further away. And that’s what happens. Bliek: “We are facing the next step in the investigation, namely a test stand on an even larger scale. Then we’ll go into the sea to see if it works just as well there. We have every confidence in it. The market is really crying out for a solution that we have in our hands.”
Within five years or so, the first income must come from this, starting with the storage and supply of energy. Until then, subsidies are available for this type of groundbreaking research. And after that? Bliek: “I can envisage that we’re going to produce Ocean Grazers together with local parties all over the world. Then we’ll really be making a difference.”