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The Energy Harvesting Eel: a small subsurface ocean/river power generator

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5 Author(s)
Taylor, G.W. ; Ocean Power Technol. Inc., Pennington, NJ, USA ; Burns, J.R. ; Kammann, S.A. ; Powers, W.B.
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The Energy Harvesting Eel (Eel) is a new device that uses piezoelectric polymers to convert the mechanical flow energy, available in oceans and rivers, to electrical power. Eel generators make use of the regular trail of traveling vortices behind a bluff body to strain the piezoelectric elements; the resulting undulating motion resembles that of a natural eel swimming. Internal batteries are used to store the surplus energy generated by the Eel for later use by a small, unattended sensor or robot. Because of the properties of commercially available piezoelectric polymers, Eels will be relatively inexpensive and are easily scaleable in size and have the capacity to generate from milli-watts to many watts depending on system size and flow velocity of the local environment. A practical Eel structure has been developed that uses the commercially available piezoelectric polymer, PVDF. Future Eels may use more efficient electrostrictive polymer. Every aspect of the system from the interactions between the hydrodynamics of the water flow and structural elements of the Eel, through the mechanical energy input to the piezoelectric material, and finally the electric power output delivered through an optimized resonant circuit has been modeled and tested. The complete Eel system, complete with a generation and storage system, has been demonstrated in a wave tank. Future work on the Eel will focus on developing and then deploying a small, lightweight, one-watt power generation unit, initially in an estuary and then subsequently in the ocean. Such Eels will have the ability to recharge batteries or capacitors of a distributed robotic group, or remote sensor array, thus extending the mission life indefinitely in regions containing flowing water

Published in:

Oceanic Engineering, IEEE Journal of  (Volume:26 ,  Issue: 4 )