BioPower Wave Technology on Track for Pilot

Ocean energy company BioPower Systems is on track to deliver the key milestone of installing its innovative bioWAVE technology off the Victorian coast next year.

Sydney-based BioPower Systems has used “biomimicry” – the emulation of nature in science and engineering – to develop bioWAVE, which is inspired by the motion of large sea plants in ocean swell waves.

The company received $5 million in funding from the Victoria Government in December last year under their Sustainable Energy Pilot Demonstration program and is now ready for the ultimate test, installing the 250 kilowatt bioWAVE unit in 30 metres of water near the coastal town of Port Fairy and connecting it to the grid.

“We’ve been testing the 250kW generating equipment on the grid at our Mascot facilities in Sydney,” says BioPower Systems chief executive, Dr Timothy Finnigan.

“We are fully funded for the Port Fairy project and expect to being construction of the 30-metre structure later this year.

“We’ve got a site opportunity at Port Fairy and the potential to expand the project up to commercial-scale, but right now the aim is for the pilot project to deliver us some validation so we can move forward with the technology.”

The unique bioWAVE system sways back and forth beneath the waves and is integrated with a self-contained module, which converts that energy to electricity by pressuring hydraulic fluid, which then spins a generator.

During extreme wave conditions the bioWAVE unit, the pilot version of which will be constructed from steel, assumes a “safe” position lying flat on the seabed – a feature that reduces the structural design requirements – and hence cost – while maintaining reliability.

“We see this as a key differentiating advantage for us,” says Dr Finnigan.

“Our units are underneath the ocean, so you don’t see them, and they are very slow moving and benign to the environment.”

The Port Fairy project is fully funded with a budget of around $14 million, but Dr Finnigan says the company is also looking for some additional funds to take it into its next stage.

“Additional funds could accelerate the development of the next phase of the technology,” he says.

“We have plans for a 1 megawatt unit and we want to get that designed and ready for production so that we can move quickly to the next stage once pilot validation is achieved.”

The southern coastline of Australia has significant potential as a source of ocean energy. A 2011 CSIRO report found that the total wave energy between Geraldton in Western Australia and the southern tip of Tasmania was around five times the total electricity requirements of Australia.

“There is no question about the resource, it is massive,” says Dr Finnigan.

“It’s just a matter of developing the technology, and being able to manufacture it cost effectively.”

He says he believes that bioWAVE will, when fully commercially developed, produce electricity at a price “highly competitive” with wind and be closer to baseload characteristics than either wind or solar.

The Port Fairy project is a major step forward on the commercialisation path for BioPower Systems.