Renewable energy is critical for future growth of the modern world, while underdeveloped countries must find entirely new sources of power to develop. With 80% of the world’s population living near water, it seems only natural to look to the sea for our energy needs. Borrowing from nature, Solar Seaweed offers a way to harvest solar and wave power without taking up valuable land or putting large structures in the way of water travel – and also for providing protected fish habitats where industrial development and pollution have damaged reefs and littoral hatcheries.
Solar Seaweed is a combination of flexible photovoltaic solar panels and materials that generate power by being flexed (piezoelectric) that will be anchored to the seabed or configured to float atop the water’s surface like sargassum seaweed beds. Covered entirely in non-reactive material (transparent silicone), Solar Seaweed moves with the ocean’s waves and harvests sunlight just as its plant cousins do – producing power without any harmful emissions or byproducts. I use the prototypes from my research as learning tools for STEMulate Learning workshops to teaching the creative process.
I have already tested small flexible solar panels in the water with help from local Boy Scouts as part of my STEMulate Learning program’s workshops for Inventing and Energy Merit Badges, but need to conduct a full-scale test to measure the greatest depth at which this artificial kelp will be of use.
Biomimetic Solar Seaweed modules can be designed with a single floatation cell for vertical suspension in the water column, mimicking natural Kelp forests to provide protection for fish hatcheries in denuded areas, or can be flanked by a series of smaller floating cells to allow it to rest horizontally along the air/water boundary like the Sargasso seaweed beds.
What I have already discovered is that photovoltaic (PV) solar cells work better under water because they are automatically kept cool by passing water, but that depth and debris in the water reduce output because water absorbs sunlight as you descend. My small-scale tests have shown that the panels move with the waves, but have not yet been able to add the piezoelectric film to test its wave power generation ability. Piezoelectric materials have a strong resistance to the flow of electricity, so a thin conductive film will be bonded to each side in order to add this functionality.
I unsuccessfully attempted to crowdfund a full scale test of this design through the second round of the #SciFund Challenge at RocketHub, detailed here: http://www.rockethub.com/projects/7507-green-power-from-solar-seaweed/
I plan to try again to fund the full scale prototype of this design using another crowdfunding platform once I have completed data gathering and analysis provided through this most recent round’s support.