AquaHarmonics wins $1.5 million grand prize

Invention wins U.S. Department of Energy’s wave energy prize

Energy engineers Alex Hagmuller and Max Ginsburg, partners in the Portland, Ore, firm AquaHarmonics, have won the U.S. Department of Energy’s $1.5 million grand prize for their energy device to reduce the cost of wave energy.

“The goal is to cut the cost of current wave energy devices in half,” said Hagmuller, who was born and raised in Cordova, and the son of Wolfgang and Elke Hagmüller, of Cordova.

Ginsburg grew up in Eugene, Oregon.

Alex Hagmüller and his AquaHarmonics partner Max Ginsburg prepare to test their wave energy device during the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wave Prize final competition at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Bethesda, Maryland. Photo courtesy AquaHarmonics/For The Cordova Times
Alex Hagmüller and his AquaHarmonics partner Max Ginsburg prepare to test their wave energy device during the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wave Prize final competition at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Bethesda, Maryland. Photo courtesy AquaHarmonics/For The Cordova Times

Hearing the news on Nov. 16 that they had won “was so awesome,” said Hagmuller, who responded to questions from The Cordova Times via email.

He and Ginsburg, said Hagmuller, were excited, but full of disbelief.

“Our testing went really well and we felt prepared for anything, but it is hard to know how well one actually did,” he wrote. “The competition is a bit like going to the races with blinders on your sides, not being able to see your competition as you race ahead.”

The competition for the Wave Energy Prize has been a humbling experience for the two engineers, who did most their innovative device development in Hagmüller’s garage.

Hagmüller and Ginsburg estimate the cost of the one-fourth scale wave device will run anywhere from $500,000 to $1.2 million, depending upon the scope, location and the suppliers.

“We anticipate that if we get the government grant available for this we could see a scale device in three years or so, grid connected and operating in an open water location,” Hagmüller said.

AquaHarmonics was one of 92 teams to register for the competition, which challenged teams to find creative ways to double the amount of electricity generated from ocean waves.

The Wave Energy Prize is a public prize challenge sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Program aimed at development of more efficient Wave Energy Converter devices that double the energy captured from ocean waves, which in turn will reduce the cost of wave energy, making it more competitive with traditional energy solutions.

The perceived economic impact of a successful Wave Energy Prize is that it could jump-start private sector innovation critical to the country’s long-term economic growth, energy security, and international competitiveness in the wave energy conversion sector.

AquaHarmonics’ wave energy device won first place during multiple rounds of testing at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Bethesda, Md.  Second place and a $500,000 prize went to CalWave Power Technologies and Waveswing America in third place, was awarded $250,000.

AquaHarmonics highlighted their device in a live demonstration in the Carderock basin.

“The technical community and judges wanted to see concepts that had a very good energy absorption performance cross the full range of sea conditions. (AquaHarmonics) indeed achieved that, they’re doing so very well across the full range,” said Wave Energy Prize Judge Phil Michael, of Ricardo, Inc., in a video posted on the DOE website about the AquaHarmonics win.

“They sailed through their testing campaign very efficiently and were enthusiastic, and didn’t shy away from even our largest and most demanding wave conditions. This technology seems to be one that has good, long prospects,” Michael said.

Scott Beatty, of Cascadia Coastal Research, also judged the Wave Energy Prize Competition, and appeared in the DOE video.

“The device is a steel floating body with a generator inside and a tether that goes from the body down to the ocean floor,” Beatty said.

AquaHarmonics’ next step is to look for additional funding through government grants with the Department of Energy, to further the development of their wave energy device.

“This one will be at about one-fourth scale, or thereabouts. We’ll use the prize to help secure these grants,” Hagmüller said.

While the prize money is a cash purse and there’s no requirement on how they must use it, Hagmüller said AquaHarmonics will use the funds to continue their research and development of their wave energy device.

“The big win is the exposure to potential investors as well as government grants. Typically, government grants need some amount of matching funds, which we could use the money for, but more importantly is hiring a grant writer that is familiar with DOE grants,” he said.

“AquaHarmonics has always been very detail-oriented, very focused and very conscious of requirements,” Julie Zona, of JZ Consulting, and a member of the prize administration team. “Having spoken with the Aqua Harmonics team about their next steps, I know that they intend to continue to develop their device,” she said in an Energy Department video about the competition.

“It is hard to believe that we did it and it has been a humbling experience seeing how much effort was put into the structure of the prize format and all the incredibly talented judges, data analysts and technical specialist required to make this all happen! If all goes well, we may see a device in the ocean in a few years actually making power – so stay tuned!” Hagmüller said.

Wave energy, still in the early stages of development, is produced by converting the energy from waves into electricity and has the potential to be a substantial resource to deliver renewable energy to the United States.

The competition has addressed this challenge by comparing a wide range of device types and evaluating them against a threshold requirement for high energy capture. The prize has already facilitated rapid technical innovation. In the next year, DOE plans to publish data from all the finalist teams’ test results to further accelerate advancement of this sector.

“The intention of our device is to ultimately provide competitively priced, renewable power,” Hagmüller said. “Wave energy has the potential to provide nearly double the kilowatt hours that wind can provide due to the consistency of ocean waves over wind.”

Final standings and scores for finalists are online at at 

http://waveenergyprize.org/teams

Find out how the Wave Energy Prize works to reduce the cost of clean, renewable wave energy through innovation at 

www.waveenergyprize.org

Follow Team AquaHarmonics’ on Facebook at 

https://www.facebook.com/aquaharmonics

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She’s been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She’s lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.