The worldwide resource of coastal wave energy has been estimated to be greater than 2.1 TW. A trip to the beach on any rough day of surf will show just how much power is crashing against our shores each and every day. Generating renewable power from this constant source of energy hasn't been easy, but research suggests around five per cent of wave power can actually be readily harnessed. That could mean as much as 10 per cent of the world's energy demand could potentially be supplied by wave power.
As it stands though, commercial operations to harness this energy have been small in scale, and most funding provided by governments to explore prototypes has been adapted to wave types in unique geographical locations. Concerns about installations potentially harming sea life have also put the brakes on a number of projects.
Bombora Wave Power uses a concept developed by two West Australian brothers who first tested a prototype of their invention back in 2009. Following initial success, patents were filed and a company founded to pursue commercial opportunities. The prototype device is dubbed "mWave", due to the membrane-style wave energy converter.
The concept is clever in its simplicity - a soft membrane full of air is easily displaced by the pressure of wave action over it. The rubber membranes are mounted onto a concrete structure on the sea floor to keep them secured, and angled towards incoming waves. As waves pass over the device, the air is squeezed into a duct and through a turbine, which drives a generator to produce renewable power. The air remains in the system, reinflating the membranes to be positioned for the next wave, and has an almost negligible impact on sea life.
The device isn’t intended to be used to capture the immensely chaotic energy of big waves, but instead the constant action of smaller waves driven by tides and wind. This renders them safe from violent storms, while still being able to tap into the approximate 80 per cent of wave energy that remains accessible from 10 meters below the surface.
Bombora Wave Power first trialled a mid-size prototype device in Swan River, in Perth, before raising capital to pursue an opportunity off the coast of Peniche, in Portugal, for a 60MW farm.
Now operating out of their new European headquarters in Pembrokeshire, Wales, Bombora was awarded 10.3 million GBP from the European Union Regional Development Fund to, “support the design and testing of a fully-submerged membrane-style wave energy convertor.” The funding assists in the creation of a 1.5MW trial project out of Pembrokeshire, involving a 20 million GBP total project cost to design, fabricate and test the first 1.5 MW mWave prototype over the next two and a half years.