It’s notoriously difficult to develop marine energy, but Todd Janca hasn’t given up yet. After eight years of refining his three-blade Ocean Energy Turbine, he’s still hard at work, because he really wants to find alternatives to fossil fuels. “It’s literally eight years worth of paychecks going into this,” he says. “If I didn’t believe in the results, I wouldn’t have been willing to do that.”
Janca is looking for $75,000 on Kickstarter to test a 52-inch prototype in the lab, ahead of a full all-weather trial off the Florida coast. The engineer is working with the Southeast National Marine Renewable Energy Center at Florida Atlantic University and Florida Power & Light, which will take the power to land via a D.C. cable.
See Janca’s pitch here:
The turbine, which harnesses deepwater currents, has an unusual design. Other machines (like this one) are more like underwater wind turbines. Janca’s design has three blades with shutters that open and close. When the blades are moving in the direction of the water, they close, causing the shaft to rotate and generate energy. When they’re against the flow, the shutters open, allowing the water to push through, minimizing drag.
“This design creates very high surface area and drag on the power stroke side of the turbine while creating very low surface area and drag on the returning side,” writes Janca on the Kickstarter page. “This design has proven to be the most efficient for collecting ocean currents.”
The key to marine power’s viability is scale. To start generating power at a competitive price, startups are looking to build both very big machines and lots of them in one place. Janca sees his model eventually reaching the size of an oil rig, as part of an array daisy-chained together.
Though marine power is in its earliest days in the United States (Ocean Renewable Power’s project off Maine is the most advanced project), other countries are further ahead, and there’s certainly plenty of potential. Scotland has the most projects, and estimates show that marine energy could some day power 20% of the U.K.’s energy needs. Similarly, a U.S. Department of Energy study found that harnessing just one-thousandth’s of the energy from the Gulf Stream could provide power for 35% of Florida’s homes.
That, of course, is a long way off. But Janca’s hanging in there.