Developing new mOCEAN technology
Mocean Energy is a Scottish SME whose ambition is to design, build and sell machines that generate energy from ocean waves, typically known as wave energy converters or WECs. The company is looking to find a partner in an offshore technology company that can help bring their product to market through investment and assistance in offshore engineering, construction, and operations.
“Our competitive advantage lies in our underlying design approach. While other companies continue with the same basic WEC design for many years, we are carrying out WEC designs based on requirements using our in-house geometry optimisation software. Designs are validated through rapid-prototyping, such as 3D printing, etc., and testing in low-cost wave tanks. This allows us to create fit-for-purpose solutions that are highly innovative. This is particularly important to ensure that we address the unique demands of providing power and a docking-base for drones”, Cameron McNatt, Managing Director, explains.
Mocean Energy’s WEC is a hinged raft - two hulls connected by a single revolute joint; the relative motion of the hulls around the hinge drives a generator system, often called a power-take-off or PTO. “Our innovation is in the shape of the hulls, which are characterised by asymmetry between the forward and aft hulls and ‘wave channels’. The asymmetry and the wave channels induce a coupling between degrees-of-freedom resulting in multiple resonant frequencies, which leads to large motions over a broad range of wave frequencies and thus more energy,” Cameron McNatt, clarifies.
Searching for partners
The company’s two biggest needs are to establish their technology as a legitimate solution for customers, and to find a partner in an offshore technology company. “Ultimately, our product needs to be manufactured, which will require significant investment and offshore engineering, construction, and operations,” Cameron explains. Thus, Mocean Energy searches for partners that can help bring their product to the market through investment and assistance in precise offshore engineering, construction, and operations, as these are not core company competencies. “Furthermore, despite a strong IP portfolio, as a small team without a physical prototype, it is very difficult to get the attention of potential customers, particularly large companies,” Cameron elaborates.
Mocean Energy has been funded by Wave Energy Scotland through its Novel WEC Programme. Within this programme, their technical development has focused on large-scale WECs, mostly to power the utility grid. However, Cameron explains, this market is highly competitive due to conventional energy sources and other renewables, and also risky. Their recent engagement with the ocean science and offshore O&G and wind markets indicates that there is a market opportunity for a small-scale WEC to provide power to high-power ocean sensors and recharge ocean drones. They call this product Seabase.
The Seabase is at early stages of product and concept development. Cameron McNatt explains that their core wave energy technology and their in-house design process is well developed and can reliably produce new designs. “We have an idea and an initial estimate of performance based on similar solutions, but do not yet have a tailored design. We will soon begin a one-year funded project to carry out the concept engineering of Seabase; the end of the project will result in a validated WEC geometry for use with a drone-docking system,” Cameron elaborates. They expect to start that in December or January. “We will continue to build our network, looking for potential users, investors, and engineering delivery partners”, he continues. Once suitable funding and a partner are found, and the concept has been validated by customers, they will build and test a sea-going prototype with a drone-docking application. “Following successful tests, we will be market ready,” Cameron declares.
Currently Mocean Energy consists of two fulltime employees, Cameron McNatt himself and his co-founder Chris Retzler, and an additional PhD researcher. Chris Retzler was the Principal Scientist at Pelamis Wave Power and has been working on wave energy for 25 years. Cameron McNatt has 10 years of experience in wave energy and naval architecture and brings a software development background which has been instrumental in their unique in-house design software. “If we get the projects we hope to this year, we expect to add 3 more employees within the year,” Cameron adds.
Reduce costs and human safety risk
“The idea for Seabase came from our research into market needs. There is an ever-increasing use of autonomous systems offshore. However, the utility of these systems is limited if frequent vessel interventions are required,” Cameron states. The use of autonomous systems for data collection in the ocean science and offshore industry is rapidly growing in order to decrease costs and risks of putting people at sea, and is enabled by novel artificial intelligence, control, and communication systems. “Currently, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are deployed by launching them from a vessel. They carry out their mission, which is usually limited by their battery life (e.g 12 hours); they return to the surface and are retrieved by the vessel, which has stayed on station for the whole deployment. The pain point is the vessel, which has a high cost, up to €50k per day; is limited by weather; and creates a human safety risk”, he explains.
Seabase coupled with an AUV docking station will enable AUVs to be deployed indefinitely carrying out multiple missions in an area and which are controlled from the safety of a control room on shore. Both the Seabase and the AUV docking system will be designed to be easy to deploy and retrieve with low-cost vessels. Compared to the current method of deploying AUVs (or other drones) from a vessel, drone deployment with the Seabase system is lower cost and allows more data to be collected in a single deployment. “Compared to other wave-energy-based solutions, the Mocean Seabase produces much more energy due to its unique, patent-pending geometry, and deployments will be flexible: we will be able to install, and retrieve, the Seabase system with low-cost vessels in a single day,” Cameron states.
Can provide six times more energy than the most developed product at the market
“The most developed product in this market is the OPT PB3 PowerBouy, which has energy generation capacity of 8.4 kWh/day. Based on our initial estimates from numerical modelling, we believe Seabase could provide six times more energy for the same size machine in the North Sea (~50 kWh/day). This is, according to Cameron, due to their unique geometry, which makes their WEC very efficient. “Moreover, our technology is scalable to larger WECs for the utility grid. We believe that through learning-by-doing in ocean science and offshore markets, we can drive down the cost of wave energy, enabling the economics of utility-scale generation. We estimate that utility-scale wave energy could power more than 100M homes, save 20k tonnes of CO2/year and be worth €20B/year,” he continues.
“We are constantly seeing novel autonomous solutions being developed including like Wave Glider, E-ROV systems, Autonomous Surface Vessels, Saab Sabertooth AUV with docking station, and Saildrone. However, all of the systems depend on advances in AI, controls, and remote communications,” Cameron explains. “For Seabase, an important trend is the deployment from docking stations, which is frequently terms ‘residential’ as in ‘residential AUV’. More and more industrial research is being applied to advance docking solutions and residential systems,” he continues.
Target users hungry for cost reductions
“Our initial target customers are ocean scientists and O&G operators or service companies,” Cameron reveals. “Ocean scientists use ocean sensors and robots to collect physical, meteorological, biological, geological, and chemical data. Their key drivers are pushing the limits of scientific knowledge and the success of their mission. Cost is important. However, funding is typically provided by third parties (e.g. research councils), and profits are not a driver. Furthermore, robotic data collection offers a lower cost than the alternative, ship-based data collection. Ocean scientists are also generally excited by the potential of new technology and are willing to accept the risks. As such, they are excellent early adopters,” he explains. “Within the UK, there is strong support from organisations like the Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) in Aberdeen for connecting large O&G companies hungry for cost reductions to innovative small companies with solutions. These companies use ocean sensors and robots to carry out sea-bed surveys, inspect surface and subsea infrastructure and monitor offshore equipment and the environment. They are typically risk adverse and are slow to uptake new technology. However, recent low oil prices with no sign of a return to high prices have driven a new focus on technology-based cost reductions,” Cameron continues.
Overcoming the barriers
Mocean’s barriers are funding, offshore engineering construction, and market traction. Mocean Energy is extremely capable in the physics, numerical modelling, and engineering requirements of the ocean environment. “However, most of our work to date has been desk-based or testing models in wave tanks; both of which are relatively low cost. We think the best way to overcome the traction issue is through official networks and programmes designed to facilitate the interaction between start-ups and established companies. We have joined the UK NOC's Marine Robotics Innovation Centre and we will apply for the next round of the OGTC TechX start-up accelerator,” Cameron disclose. “Once we have some traction, and proven ourselves credible to the industry, our best approach to overcoming the issues of funding and offshore construction are to find a suitable partner,” Cameron concludes.