Underwater kites that look like the Starship Enterprise will harness 'liquid breezes' to supply the world with electricity, claims scientist

  • David Olinger of Worcester Polytechnic Institute says underwater currents could produce power comparable to multiple nuclear stations
  • The futuristic devices resemble the fictional spacecraft in Star Trek
  • By flying the kites in a figure of eight pattern, Professor Olinger believes he can harness large amounts of power

By Mark Prigg

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Underwater kites that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Starship Enterprise could soon be supplying power to homes across the world, an American researcher claims.

David Olinger of Worcester Polytechnic Institute says underwater currents could produce power comparable to multiple nuclear stations - if engineers can work out how to harness it.

His idea is to use large kites with rigid wings underwater.

Minesto

Minesto an energy firm is experimenting with the technology. The tidal energy device developed by Minesto, named Deep Green, converts energy from tidal stream flows into electricity using a kite with a turbine

By flying the kites in a figure of eight pattern, Professor Olinger believes he can harness large amounts of power.

The futuristic devices look like the fictional spaceship in Star Trek but could play a part in providing much needed energy to the world's growing population.

Professor David Olinger sits on a rig that uses a rocking arm to translate the motion of wind-powered kite into rotary motion to spin an electric generator

Professor David Olinger sits on a rig that uses a rocking arm to translate the motion of wind-powered kite into rotary motion to spin an electric generator

'Unseen under the waves, winding along coastlines and streaming through underwater channels, there are countless ocean currents and tidal flows that bristle with kinetic energy,' he said. 

'And just as wind turbines can convert moving air into electricity, there is the potential to transform these virtually untapped liquid 'breezes' into vast amounts of power.

 

'For example, it has been estimated that the potential power from the Florida Current, which flows from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean, is 20 gigawatts—equivalent to about 10 nuclear power plants.'

The project has recently been given a three-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore ways to harness ocean currents and tidal flows.


Star Trek

The underwater kites bear some resemblance to the Starship Enterprise, seen here in an illustration for the recent Star Trek film, INTO THE DARKNESS

kite

As water flows over the hydrodynamic wing, a lift force is generated which allows the device to move smoothly through the water and for the turbine to rotate hence generating electricity

The team plan to build a series of kites and test them in ‘water tunnels’.

HOW DO WATER KITES WORK?

Energy from a tidal stream is converted into electricity using a kite with a turbine.

The kite assembly, consisting of a wing and turbine, is attached by a tether to a fixed point on the ocean bed.

As water flows over the hydrodynamic wing, a lift force is generated which allows the device to move smoothly through the water and for the turbine to rotate hence generating electricity.

Dr David Olinger of Worcester Polytechnic Institutesaid: 'It has been estimated that the potential power from the Florida Current, which flows from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic Ocean, is 20 gigawatts—equivalent to about 10 nuclear power plants.'

'Instead of moving air, you have moving water and the kites have rigid wings,' Olinger said, 'But the same physical principles apply.'

One way to generate power with underwater kites is to have an electric generator attached to the kite, which would be tethered to a floating platform.

Using computational models, Olinger and his team will virtually test possible designs for undersea kites and explore methods for tethering them to floating platforms similar to those used for oil and gas rigs. 

In the final stage of the research, they will build scale models of the kites and test them in a water tank at WPI and at the Alden Research Laboratory, a renowned hydraulics research facility where the kites will be'flown' in large water flumes.

Another firm, Minesto, is also experimenting with the technology.

The tidal energy device developed by Minesto, named Deep Green, converts energy from tidal stream flows into electricity using a kite with a turbine.

'The kite assembly, consisting of a wing and turbine, is attached by a tether to a fixed point on the ocean bed,' the firm says.

kite

Professor Olinger's kite is connected by a tether to a platform that floats at the ocean surface and is anchored to the ocean floor with mooring lines. The kite will have a wing, a rudder control surfaces, and ballast tanks. A turbine generator inside the kite would generate power as the kite moved in a figure-eight motion

'As water flows over the hydrodynamic wing, a lift force is generated which allows the device to move smoothly through the water and for the turbine to rotate hence generating electricity.”

The Deep Green ‘underwater kite’ marine power plant is already producing electricity in the waters off Northern Ireland.

The comments below have not been moderated.

Another great idea on paper that is so far from being viable that it is difficult to comprehend.

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You are an idiot........ tidal turbines are ALREADY working in Scotland, Norway and elsewhere.

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A case of too little two late...Fukushima is destroying out oceans

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And the slowing down of the currents, will have what affect on the rest of the planet ?!?!

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DWW - Are you kidding or are you an idiot? Do you seriously think we can actually slow down the tides? Maybe you think it will slow the orbit of moon and the sun too!

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and those solar panels will suck all the energy right out of the sun!

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fish struggling in the cables.....

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We can but hope.

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you mean they don't struggle in fishing nets?

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And has their research taken into consideration the effect it will have on marine life, for example will even more whales lose their orientation and be washed ashore to die?

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Why would that happen ? They aren't using sonar to generate electricity.

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Mark Prigg claims they bear an "uncanny resemblance" to the Starship Enterprise. Should've gone to Specsavers I think.

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Good luck to him. They have been trying this for over 30 years. Problem I think are all those moving parts in salty water, and the need for expensive divers to do installation and servicing. I once had to answer a question about magnetohydrodynamic propulsion, so maybe he should earn his money and get this to work in reverse.

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algae, rust

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ablative skinning, composite construction :)

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Wakeup, London - Yes, of course you're right. That's why drilling for oil and gas out at sea can't possibly work.

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An elegant variation on existing tidal-power generators. Tides and currents are eternal, unlike fickle winds - and tidal power does not ruin landscapes, or drive people to distraction with droning noises.

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10 gigawatts equivalent to 10 nuclear plants..thats impressive! But doesnt that mean all that power extracted from underwater currents actually weakens these currents and impacts oceans on a global scale?

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I'm sure the sea will be weakened by having to move those things about. Just like all those solar panels will suck all the energy and warmth out of the sun.

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