Japan Is Dropping a Gargantuan Turbine Into The Ocean to Harness 'Limitless' Energy

There's a wellspring of power down under the seas that's unlike any other. To tap into it, Japanese engineers built a genuine leviathan, a beast capable of withstanding the most powerful ocean currents and converting its flow into an almost unlimited supply of electricity.

Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries – now known simply as IHI Corporation – has been experimenting with the technology for more than a decade, and in 2017 partnered with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to put their concepts to the test.

The project reached a crucial milestone in February when a three-and-a-half-year field test off Japan's southwestern coast was completed successfully.

Kairyu is the name given to the 330-ton prototype, which roughly translates to 'ocean current'. It had a 20 meter (66 foot) long fuselage flanked by two cylinders of equal size, each holding a power production system connected to an 11 meter long turbine blade.

The gadget can orient itself to locate the most optimal place to produce electricity from the push of a deep-water current and feed it into a grid when it is anchored to the ocean floor by an anchor line and power cables.

To generate a substantial portion of its power, Japan is significantly reliant on fossil fuel imports. Japan is encouraged to exploit its technological expertise to take advantage of renewable energy sources, as public opinion against nuclear power has soured since the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

Unfortunately, the hilly Japanese archipelago does not lend itself to enormous wind turbine forests or solar panel fields. Because of its remote position, there is also less potential to manage renewable energy swings through energy trading.

The country does, however, feature huge tracts of coastline sea. The ocean swirls to the east under the might of the North Pacific gyre.

When the gyre hits Japan, it forms the Kuroshio current, which is a pretty powerful current.

IHI believes that if the energy in the current could be harnessed, it could create roughly 205 gigawatts of electricity, which is comparable to the country's current power producing capacity.

The vast potential of the ocean's chaotic oscillations is precisely what makes it so difficult to harness as a source of energy. The fastest-moving waters are found at the surface, which is also where typhoons may readily destroy power plants.

Kairyu was meant to float 50 meters beneath the waves, with the drag caused providing the necessary torque to the turbines as it approaches the surface. Each of the blades also spins in the opposite direction, ensuring that the gadget remains somewhat steady.

Kairyu was discovered to be capable of producing 100 kilowatts of electricity in a flow of two to four knots (about one to two meters per second).

It may appear little when compared to the 3.6 megawatts of an average offshore wind turbine. Kairyu might soon have a monstrous sister spinning 20-meter-long turbines to generate a more respectable 2 megawatts, thanks to its proved ability to endure all nature can throw at it.

If all goes according to plan, a farm of power generators might be flowing electricity into the grid by the end of the decade. It will be interesting to see whether Kairyu can scale up.

Attempts to extract watts from the open ocean's tides, waves, and currents, despite widespread interest, usually fail. High engineering expenses, environmental restrictions, and the proximity of coastal communities to the grid are just some of the obstacles that must be overcome in order to complete projects like this.

There are kaiju-sized benefits to be had if IHI Corp. can overcome them, with ocean power having the ability to provide anywhere from 40 to 70% of Japan's energy demands.

With breakthroughs in materials science and a greater understanding of the marine environment, someone will undoubtedly be able to solve the slew of issues that exist in harnessing the ocean's immense energy supply.
Previous Post Next Post