Safeguarding the marine environment with a plastic block

The Terobuoy device measures shoreline wave energy strengths

A robust, low-cost device  that could measure the onshore effects of offshore wave energy arrays, has won an award for a student from Heriot-Watt University's International Centre for Island Technology (ICIT) in Orkney.

Marine renewables PhD student Robert Beharie was awarded the prize for development of the Terobuoy at the SuperGen Marine Energy Annual Assembly 2011. He hopes that the sturdy, low-cost device will help to safeguard marine ecosystems around Orkney as companies move to install offshore energy devices in the next few years.

"Marine creatures living on or near the shorelines are adapted to different wave strengths and choose suitable areas to live in. Offshore marine energy devices offer tremendous potential benefits in terms of renewable energy, but what isn't clear yet is what impact they might have on shoreline wave strengths.

"Previous devices for measuring onshore wave strengths have been expensive and fragile, but with these robust, cost effective devices I hope that we can establish baselines for shoreline wave energy before the installation of off-shore devices, then monitor what effect if any we see after the installations."

Inspired by  Orkney

Robert says the inspiration for the Terobuoy was all around him in Orkney. "You only have to look at mooring ropes and chains for boats to see how wave action and movement wears them through. I thought that we could take this problem and make it an asset in a device where we want to study that very wave action.

"Using re-cycled fishing floats to capture movement, we can then measure how much wear the abrasive metal ring makes on the central plastic block and then deduce what level of wave action the Terobuoy has been subject to.'

Preliminary assessments

As part of his PhD Robert has already conducted 20 months of preliminary assessment of onshore wave action at selected points in Orkney, and hopes the work can be taken much further.

"I have provided some preliminary results but, when I finish my PhD, I hope the monitoring will be carried on during operations of the proposed array developments in Orkney and eventually much further afield around the world, wherever there's a need for a robust, low-tech solution.

"We need to make sure we can follow up innovative ideas if we want the United Kingdom to stay in the lead of marine energy research."

The  future of the wave and tidal energy

Professor David Ingram, Head of the Doctoral Training Programme at SuperGen Marine, said: "The PhD students being trained by SuperGen Marine make an important contribution to our research work and will play a critical role in securing the future of the wave and tidal energy sector. Robert's project is an excellent example of the type of innovative, practical, idea which is critical to answering key questions on environmental impact. His work has particularly impressed the panel of judges at this years Annual Assembly as did his enthusiasm for his research topic and the sector in general.

"Robert is an excellent representative of the 30 PhD students who have been trained in all aspects of marine energy by the SuperGen Marine programme and I am sure he has a bright future ahead of him"

Robert's prize, awarded for his development, research work and poster of the Terobuoy, is grant funding for him to visit an international conference of his choice.