Going With the Flow

The Air Force Academy has received a research grant from the National Science Foundation to study how to harness the power of ocean waves to generate energy. “Wave power has the potential to provide a large portion of the world’s electric energy needs, if it can be tapped in an efficient way,” said Stefan Siegel, who will oversee this project, in an academy release Aug. 20. Under the grant, which runs through 2011, the academy’s aeronautics department will pursue work on a cyclodial propeller wave energy converter in cooperation with Oregon State University. Cycloidal propellers are like those used on tug boats; they have the ability to produce thrust in any direction perpendicular to the propeller shaft. Turning power-generating turbines underwater is a simple concept—let the motion of incoming and outgoing waves, along with tidal currents, turn the propellers and turbines to crank out electricity. But challenges in making these turbines efficient, effective, and survivable, both in shallow and deep water, have prevented their large-scale application to date. But the cycloidal propeller-based converters have the potential to overcome this.