Page last updated at 23:35 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 00:35 UK

'Anaconda' harnesses wave power

By Christine McGourty
Science correspondent, BBC News


'Anaconda' harnesses wave power

A new wave energy device known as "Anaconda" is the latest idea to harness the power of the seas.

Its inventors claim the key to its success lies in its simplicity: Anaconda is little more than a length of rubber tubing filled with water.

Waves in the water create bulges along the tubing that travel along its length gathering energy.

At the end of the tube, the surge of energy drives a turbine and generates electricity.

The device is being developed by Checkmate Seaenergy Ltd, which has been testing a small-scale 8m-long prototype in a wave tank in Gosport, Hampshire, owned by the science and technology company Qinetiq.

Paul Auston, chairman of Checkmate, says the tests have proved the concept works.

The company is now looking to raise £7m from investors to build a larger version to test at sea.

"We've seen excellent results in scale-model testing, and now we are gearing up to attract the necessary investment to develop Anaconda and begin producing the first full-sized units for ocean testing within the next three years," he told BBC News.

"The UK is known for its engineering excellence and politicians from all parties have been keen to challenge companies to come up with renewable energy projects that can be sold around the world.

"With Anaconda, we have an invention that changes conventional thinking and it can help to meet government targets for cutting CO2 by providing renewable wave energy from our coastal waters.

"It will also help cement the UK's world-leading position in this technology."

The co-inventor of the device, Professor Rod Rainey of engineering design consultants Atkins, has been working in the field for several decades.

He said: "The beauty of wave energy is its consistency. However, the problem holding back wave energy machines is that devices tend to deteriorate over time in the harsh marine environment.

"Anaconda is non-mechanical. It is mainly rubber, a natural material with a natural resilience, and so has very few moving parts to maintain."

The long-term plan is to have hundreds of these devices offshore where waves are big, in northern Scotland for example.

Other potential locations would be on western seaboards - off the coast of America, Australia, Ireland and Japan, to name a few.

It is claimed that a group of 50 full-size Anacondas - each 200m long - could provide electricity for 50,000 homes.

Professor Godfrey Boyle, an expert in renewable energy at the Open University, said the device sounded quite promising.

If the required investment capital can be raised, the team "could be on to a winner", he said.

But he cautioned that the developers would need to achieve very long lifetimes for the device and the very high reliability required to withstand decades of battering by the waves - combined with low capital and maintenance costs and high-energy conversion efficiency.

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