By Michele Grassi – CEO & CTO of 40South Energy and Element Works
Michele Grassi begins his speech by introducing 40South Energy, a project born in 2007, and Elements Works, a project born in 2014.
The focus of 40South Energy is to produce renewable energy from sea waves. Over the years Elements Works has adopted a sustainable approach to the resources of the sea, including one called Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) whose goal is to establish a circular approach to the marine environment. In this sector it is possible to interact with various stakeholders, including those involved in fishfarming. Data collection is also essential to have a complete picture of the environment in which you operate.
We need to move towards a continuous and punctual knowledge and data collection, which at the moment is lacking. The tools that can be used at the moment are sensors that are separated by large distances that only give a partial collection of information; then there are simulations like those of Aeneas; the collections on the spot field are not enough.
Sea energy is different from wind energy; it is more distributed and predictable.
In 2005, Grassi had the idea of a new approach to convert sea waves into electricity. This idea has become a project, and after about 10 years it has produced a machine called H24, so called because it can work 24/24. The first prototype of this machine was installed in Marina di Pisa. This technology is particularly useful for efficient dispatching and for isolated networks.
Microgrids need less energy and generally have to bear higher costs per kWh, up to 0.50 cents per kWh and even more. In this context, machines with greater capital and management costs can be exploited, and commercial installations can be made, which are self-financed thanks to the relationship between supply and demand, bypassing contributions and incentives that are fluctuating or absent, so the market laws are followed without resorting to self-financing.
H24 is different from other technologies for the production of marine energy; it is in fact completely submerged. Marina di Pisa machine is positioned at a depth of 7 meters, it is about 3 meters high and it moves with the action of the waves which is very concentrated in that level of depth; the movement occurs horizontally, the body is pushed back and forth by the wave and it moves on the guide generating energy.
An advantage is that H24 does not need to be calibrated with resonance, and it can be installed anywhere. This is the main difference compared to machines positioned on the surface, which must also be “tuned”.
It is a machine born for the Mediterranean, but usable everywhere. In its initial version it has 50kW of power and it is suitable for use in the islands or in isolated coastal areas, for example it would be perfect in South East Asia and in its numerous archipelagos.
The machine can extract more or less energy based on the energy regime in the location where it is set.
During its work it has no visual and environmental impact and, if someone in the surrounding environment interacts with the machine, there is no danger.
The development was essentially finalized and now the only issue is to find the first buyer willing to take the risk of launching the technology as a pilot project.
Grassi also introduces us a project that Elements Works is working on: the underwater cultivation. It has great market potential; in this sector they are still working on the evaluation of technologies able to support algae and plants of the underwater environment. Elements Works is working on the mechanical aspect, as it is the first problem to solve, finding a way to support a subwater cultivation in a coastal marine environment, where waves sweep away anything.
The waves would be able to move any structure; the engineering cost to build something usable underwater is exorbitant. Elements Works is creating supports capable of supporting and helping the plants in their growth. There will be used only biodegradable and environmentally friendly material. This project is called “Underwater Precision“.
The marine environment and the consequent collection of energy requires a constant control of data. In the last two years Elements Works developed “netH2O“, the third project applied to the marine environment of which Grassi speaks.
It consists of a cheap and simple buoy that is able to collect data from the environment. The first is going to be installed near the port of Livorno, in the marine ecosystem known as “the magic mile”. It not only has the task of collecting information, but it also acts as a dock for boats, so that it replaces the anchors that could ruin the seabed.
The device in the basic version is installed simply by throwing it from a rubber boat. It is able to provide data at a very low cost, which will then be transferred to the final user, such as municipal authorities, tourist services, fish farming.
The basic buoy has a cost of around € 1500 and the data is always easily accessible.
These types of projects are fundamental for the study and the advancement in the field of marine sustainability.