EBN company focus: BioPower Systems
Ocean energy company BioPower Systems is on track to deliver the key milestone of installing its innovative bioWAVE technology off the Victorian coast next year.
Sydney-based BioPower has used “biomimicry” – the emulation of nature in science and engineering – to develop bioWAVE, which is inspired by the motion of large sea plants in turbulent ocean waters.
The company received $5 million in funding from the Victoria Government in December last year under their Sustainable Energy and is now ready for the ultimate test, installing the 250 kilowatt bioWAVE unit in 30 metres of water near the coastal town of Port Fairy and connecting it to the grid. Last week the company received $5.6 million in Federal funding.
“We’ve been testing the 250kw systems at Mascot in Sydney and testing them on the grid,” says BioPower chief executive, Dr Timothy Finnigan.
“We are fully funded for the Port Fairy project and expect to being construction of the 30 metre system later this year.
“We’ve got a site opportunity at Port Fairy and the potential to expand the project up to 100 megawatts, but right now the aims are for the pilot project to deliver us some validation so we can move forward with the technology.”
The unique BioWAVE system sways back and forth beneath the waves and is integrated with a self-contained module which converts that energy to electricity by pressuring hydraulic fluid, which then spins a generator.
During extreme wave conditions the BioWAVE unit, the pilot version of which will be constructed from steel, assume a “safe” position lying flat on the seabed, a feature which reduces the structural design requirements – and hence cost – while maintaining reliability.
“We see this as a key differentiating advantage for us,” says Dr Finnigan.
“Our units are underneath the ocean, so you don’t see them,, and they are very slow moving and benign to the environment, as well as generating very high voltages.”
The Port Fairy project is fully funded with a budget of around $14 million, but Dr Finnigan says the company is also looking for some additional funds to take it into its next stage.
“We still need some funds for working capital and to accelerate the development of the next phase of the technology,” he says.
“We have plans for a 1 megawatt unit and we want to get that developed at the same time as the pilot project.
“If the pilot at Port Fairy gets proved up then we can move very quickly to the next stage, and we’d been looking to construction at the end of 2013 with a view to implementing it in 2014.”
The southern coastline of Australia has significant potential as a source of ocean energy. A 2011 CSIRO report found that the total wave energy between Geraldton in Western Australia and the southern tip of Tasmania was around five times the total electricity requirements of Australia.
“There is no question about the resource, it is massive,” says Dr Finnigan.
“It’s just a matter of developing the technology, and being able to manufacture it cost effectively.”
He says he believes that bioWAVE will, when fully commercially developed, produce electricity at a price “highly competitive” with wind and be closer to baseload characteristics than either wind or solar.
The Port Fairy project is a first major step along the road to commercialization.
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