Could These Little Tubes Be The Secret To Capturing The Ocean’s Energy?

The ocean contains much energy in its roiling movements, and there are no shortage of creative proposals to better harvest it–from wave machines shaped like oyster shells and snakes, to turbines resembling corkscrews and kites. (We covered a few of the crazier concepts here).

The problem with most of these designs is their inflexibility. They’re designed for water that flows predictably or always in a particular direction, says Sam Etherington, a designer who has a different idea.

Instead, Etherington’s multi-axis tubes are fixed together with loose string, facing one way and the other.

“Other devices work in one direction, so they are quite linear. The key principles of my design is to make sure it doesn’t repeal any force. The more you can absorb energy from every direction, the more power you’ve got to play with. Plus, you’re improving the structure’s ability to withstand seas for long periods of time,” he says.

The tubes contain hydraulic pistons, which move up and down in the water, creating pressure. That energy is used to drive an hydraulic motor and generator, via a subsea array and cabling to the mainland. Etherington, a graduate of Brunel University, in London, came up with the idea while kite-surfing in Cumbria, and feeling how powerful waves can be. “They kept throwing me off the board,” he says.

Etherington won the U.K. track of the James Dyson Awards, and is now up for the international prize (which is announced November 7th). He plans to use any prize money for a second prototype, which he hopes to test at the European Marine Energy Center in Scotland.

So far, his model has only faced lab conditions. But there’s plenty of time–the sea isn’t going anywhere.