Vortex Induced Vibrations

A team of researchers lead by Professor Michael Bernitsas at the University of Michigan has invented a device with the potential to serve a vast amount of the world’s populace with clean energy. VIVACE (Vortex-Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy) is a machine that can effectively convert slow moving water currents into energy. Inspired by the movement of fish, Vivace is a hydrokinetic energy system comprising of a field of cylinders that are individually attached to springs. When water moves past these cylinders, it creates eddies, or vortices (which are typically the cause of several problems for offshore engineering). In the Vivace system, however, these vortices are manufactured on opposing sides of the cylinder, causing it to move vertically or horizontally, creating energy.

As Bernitsas explains in an interview with the Telegraph, “This is a totally new method of extracting energy from water flow…. Fish curve their bodies to glide between the vortices shed by the bodies of the fish in front of them. Their muscle power alone could not propel them through the water at the speed they go, so they ride in each other's wake."

The brilliance of this research is that (i) it took a typical problem and found potential energy within it and (ii) these vortices enable us to tap into energy residing within slow moving waters. Currently, most aquatic turbines require five or more knots of current to operate. Because Vivace can take advantage of currents as slow as one knot (one mile per hour), it can virtually permeate all of the waters in the globe. From neighborhood streams to regional rivers and oceans, the Vivace system could be implemented almost anywhere.

Bernitsas’ calculations reveal that a one and one-half square kilometer field of these cylinders, combined with three knots of water current could yield enough energy to serve 100,000 homes. The scientists are using the slow moving Detroit River (2 knots of flow and full of other mysteries) as an initial test site and are expected to have a pilot project running with 18 months. Bernitsas claims that harnessing just 0.1 percent of the energy in the ocean could yield enough energy for 15 billion people. If you are interested in seeing the Vivace, you can watch a video here.

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