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Next-Gen Underwater Turbines Blow Wind Model Out of the Water

Brazilian startup TidalWatt has rethought underwater turbines — theirs are 60x smaller and produce 3x as much energy as wind turbines, are harmless to marine life, and promote the formation of artificial reefs.

80 percent of the world's energy is still sourced from burning fossil fuels, accounting for more than 65 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Global energy consumption has increased every year for more than 50 years, as has a corresponding urgency to shift to sustainable solutions that can keep up with demand — innovation continues in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, but they’re not yet reliable or consistent enough to keep up with rising demand.

Another drawback is the damage that current renewable energy infrastructures causes the surrounding ecosystems; wind turbines and solar panels kill thousands of birds each year and hydroelectric dams change the ecology and landscape of rivers, threatening fish populations. Therefore, finding consistent and unobtrusive ways to source renewable energy that can keep up with increasing demand remains a critical task for innovators globally.

Enter Brazilian startup TidalWatt, which just might have unlocked the secret to capturing unlimited renewable power with no environmental risks. It has developed a new generation of underwater turbines designed specifically to capture energy in the ocean.

“When the energy source is predictable and constant, as is exclusively the case with the ocean, we say that this source offers energy security. So, in this way, the ocean is the only safe renewable energy source,” TidalWatt founder and CEO Mauricio Queiroz told Sustainable Brands®. “The ocean currents are already extensively mapped around the world; so we already know numerous positions that are ideal for the installation of our underwater plants.”

TidalWatt’s turbines are uniquely designed to capture the hydrokinetic energy associated with underwater currents. Unlike wind turbines, this technology is not based on wind/aeronautical mechanisms — which lose energy between the propellers (the venturi effect) — but continuously capture the energy generated by upstream currents.

“A 3m diameter TidalWatt turbine is capable of producing 5 MW of power at a current of 1.87 knots — practically the same power as a 180m diameter wind turbine,” Queiroz explains. “So, the TidalWatt turbine, with a diameter 60 times smaller, produces the same power. In addition, due to the availability of the source, a wind turbine on average produces energy 30 percent of the time; our technology can produce energy 90 percent of the time. This means that being 3,600 times smaller, in coverage area, our turbines can produce three times more energy.”

TidalWatt plans to install its turbines in locations with average current speeds above 1 knot, generating 5 MW with the turbine capacity ranging between 70 and 95 percent. When considering the average energy consumption in Brazilian homes, Queiroz estimates that each of these turbines could serve up to 22,800 families.

“When we talk about power generation capacity, we are talking about how much energy is available in nature that can be converted into electricity,” Queiroz says. “[In terms of the ocean], it depends on the infrastructure we build with the investments to meet demand of different locations.”

TidalWatt is also promoting and protecting marine life. The installation sites have been chosen away from coral reefs to protect the surrounding ecosystems and prevent trawling on the ocean floor. Much like the bases of some offshore wind farms, artificial reefs will be formed to allow multiple marine species to live and reproduce safely there.

“We are not just going to build power plants — we are going to build marine ecological sanctuaries,” Queiroz says. “We know that marine animals avoid moving objects; but if by chance one feels attracted to the adventure through a silent turbine that turns at 12 rpm (rotations per minute), it will, at worst, slide along with the water, much like we slide down a water slide. The probability of hitting one of the blades is practically zero, and it is impossible for the turbine to hurt or disturb any fish.”

TidalWatt’s technology promises both environmental and economical benefits and aligns with SDGs 7, 13 and 14 (clean and affordable energy, action against climate change, and life below water): The system has been designed to transform economically inactive and uninhabited ocean areas into sources of revenue without disturbing the surrounding ecosystems or causing any visual or noise pollution. The structures are much smaller than wind turbines and so are easier to maintain and versatile — they can be installed in rivers without the negative effects of hydroelectric dams.

“I met Mauricio at a presentation meeting of TidalWatt technology — we immediately believed in the project and signed a contract for the construction of the first prototype in the city of Macaé, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,” Marcelo Amado, commercial and operational corporate manager of the John Cockerill Group in Brazil, explained. “Simplicity, low maintenance cost and efficiency in energy production are at the core of this technology and we are excited for its continuity!”

The John Cockerill Group develops large-scale technological solutions to meet the needs of its time; the company has partnered with TidalWatt to develop its first test model. The model is now in the process of being installed in rivers and oceans; and has recently obtained formal authorization from the state environmental authority of Rio de Janeiro to carry out tests with INMETRO (Brazil’s National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology). The model is further being tested in one of the largest ocean technology laboratories in the world, COPPE's LabOceano at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

“We are technically and scientifically ready,” Queiroz says. “LabOceano’s tests will help us get the green light so that we can launch our underwater power plant projects, opening up investment opportunities to anyone interested in owning the newest way of clean and renewable energy generation — with all the benefits that this entails.”