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Toronto, start-up Biome Renewables is turning the tide to unlock increased tidal power potential
By Suzanne Forcese
“Our seas have untapped potential to be sources of reliable base-load power, at cost structures that work with current market economics.”
Ryan Church, Founder Biome Renewables
PowerCone Tidal is a fully embedded rotor design refit using Biome’s patented PowerCone® geometry to unlock increased tidal power potential. R&D has revealed a marked reduction in design-driving thrust loads by an average of 10% coupled with an increase in power output, especially in low flow regimes below 1.4 m/s by up to 2X. - Image Biome Renewables
Seas and oceans are a source of immense energy and are as reliable as clockwork. Most of the world’s population lives close enough to the coast for tidal energy to be their main power source, but it is not. At least not yet.
WATERTODAY reached out to Ryan Church, Founder of Biome Renewables to learn more about the nature-inspired solutions that could change the way the untapped potential of the seas generate power.
WT: Recently you were nominated for the Forbes 30 under 30 in energy, and you have been described as operating at the intersection of biologically inspired design, entrepreneurship, engineering, materials, and systems. What was the journey that led you to found Biome Renewables in 2015?
Church: I founded Biome because I saw a business opportunity that could benefit the planet. Using biomimicry as the basis for design, I know that renewable energy systems could be designed in a smarter way, if only we had the humility to look at the natural world for clues.
As such, Biome Renewables is a Canadian Cleantech company that leverages the intelligence of evolution to create a sustainable future. As with many aspects of biomimicry, one invention can have many applications.
WT: Your core technology -- the PowerCone® -- an aerodynamic-enhancement device that unlocks wind power’s potential is a refit that bolts onto the hub of a wind turbine. It has been proven to improve performance by 10-20%. Why have wind turbines had poorer performance before the PowerCone?
Church: There is an area of low pressure, which develops around the hub, because the blade goes from being an airfoil section into this circular route geometry. When the turbine is inoperative there is no power being produced there. In effect a low-pressure area contrasts with the high-pressure region around the outer part of the rotor, causing a pressure differential. That differential causes a suction effect upwind of the rotor. The wind is driving in this central area. Not only is it not doing its job, but it is also robbing the blades of power that it could be generating.
WT: What was the inspiration for this design?
Church: PowerCone’s inspiration started when I saw a maple seed fall to the ground. It struck me how slowly it was falling, and how quickly it was spinning.
Time Dependent Energy Transfer is a principle where the seed takes more time to slow down the wind, thus increasing efficiency while limiting turbulence formation. It is Nature’s way of dealing with turbulence.
I then harnessed this phenomenon into a geometry which is the PowerCone. The coning angle of the PowerCone – the way it swoops backwards -- is the same coning angle as a falling maple seed.
From there I started playing around with small prototypes in my living room, utilizing a home-made wind tunnel. I could see the impact immediately. The PowerCone was born from an observation in Nature, which has proven itself in the field.
WT: What is the PowerCone® Tidal, and how did the power of the sea inspire your revolutionary technology? How have you been able to unlock the sea’s potential?
Church: We started out in wind, but quickly realized that tidal energy could also benefit from our flagship PowerCone technology.
PowerCone Tidal is the next evolution of technology. With an understanding of fluid dynamics, I knew that the length scale of the technology needed to change as you moved from one application in air to a far denser medium in water.
The practical limitations of tidal are known. The same fundamental fluid dynamic is playing itself out here, only with a greater negative impact!
We started out with a scale model prototype in a tidal tank, and when the technology proved itself out, we took the prototype into the ocean.
In 2019 we tested a 3D-metal printed PowerCone on a Schottel rotor in Strangford Lough (UK) with impressive results. The biggest value proposition was a decrease in design-driving loads of 10% -- a huge value and benefit to the industry that has the potential to decrease the LCOE (Levelized Cost Of Energy).
WT: Please describe the Power Cone tidal technology and tell us about tidal pilot Projects.
Church: PowerCone Tidal is a fluid-dynamic device that sits in the middle of the rotor and changes the flow pattern to increase efficiency and decrease design-driving loads.
At the center of rotors today, an area of low pressure develops which decreases efficiency – the PowerCone effectively reverses this phenomenon and reduces flow separation on the rotor.
Biome has joined with Andritz Hydro (a leading global turbine developer) in the UK and the University of New Brunswick (UNB) to conduct a joint-development project that will see the creation of numerical models that blend conventional rotor design with that of the PowerCone, creating a new innovative rotor for the tidal market.
WT: What’s next?
Church: following our joint-development study with Andritz Hydro, UK and UNB, we will aim to conduct physical model testing, followed shortly thereafter by full-scale development. The PowerCone is also being considered as a propeller, with new potential game-changing benefits for efficiency and use in electrification.
We aim to bring about a sea of change!