Inspired by her pen pal in Ethiopia, 15 year old Hannah Herbst from Florida has developed a low cost energy capture method designed to help resource-poor communities access electricity on the cheap.
Marine currents' energy generation is still in its early phase and relatively untapped, and yet according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, with water 800 times denser than air, “water moving 12 miles per hour exerts the same amount of force as a constant 110 mph wind. Because of this physical property, ocean currents contain an enormous amount of energy that can be captured and converted to a usable form. It has been estimated that taking just 1/1000th the available energy from the Gulf Stream would supply Florida with 35 percent of its electrical needs”.
Herbst's invention seeks to tap into the huge powerhouse that the ocean is, and consists of a floating probe with a 3D-printed propeller, a pulley, and a hydroelectric generator that converts the ocean’s movement into energy. While Herbsts admits that her prototype isn't enough to power up a grid yet, the electricity generated can nevertheless run equipment, including things like a desalination machine that converts ocean water into potable water. And at a cost of only 12 USD, its potential for quality of life improvements around the world is therefore huge.
Herbst was awarded the first prize in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge 2015, scooping up 25,000 USD and the title of 'American's Top Young Scientist'.
A yearly event, “the Young Scientist Challenge empowers students with the tools and experiences they need to apply science and their critical thinking skills to solve real-world problems”