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“Our biggest breakthrough was when we realized we could put air underwater and use it to generate power.” – Shawn Ryan, Director, Bombora Wave Power
Creating an underwater wonderland: Bombora Wave Power engineers discover that there’s more to renewable energy than simply electricity.
Develop a wave power system that does more than simply harnessing energy.
A safe, sustainable and multi-purpose wave power system.
Waves are endlessly breaking on shores all around the globe and brothers Glen and Shawn Ryan from Western Australia felt that this wave energy could be channeled directly back into the power grid. In creating Bombora Wave Power, the Ryans discovered that they could provide more than clean energy, incorporating a diverse range of additional benefits to give back to seaside communities.
“Our system involves creating an artificial reef which will attract fish so it will be great for recreational diving and snorkeling. There are many diversified applications to be explored when designing renewable energy products.”
– Shawn Ryan, Director, Bombora Wave Power
Brothers Glen and Shawn Ryan are both avid kayakers and white-water rafters. It was when Glen was on holiday with his family at the beach that he decided wave power should be harnessed. Glen saw the waves breaking and his creative mind started to explore ways to make the most from this wave power. It was around the same time that younger brother Shawn had returned from three years backpacking around the globe. Shawn had also been seeing energy in a new light. On his travels he noticed that ancient cultures around the world didn’t live too differently from how we live today.
“The big difference is energy. Energy underlies everything we do today, so along with food, water, and shelter, energy is now critical to the functioning of the modern world.”
The Ryan brothers went through several prototypes and felt their idea gain traction in the market when they revealed that it had multiple functions. Along with converting wave energy into electricity, Bombora acts as an artificial reef suitable for diving, snorkeling and, under the right conditions, surfing. Marine life will establish their lives on and around the Bombora and if the system is sitting on the ocean floor at the right depth and with the right swell size and direction, a wave may break above the Bombora Wave Power. Shawn says, “There are many community benefits that we provide over and above supplying electricity.”
The majority of renewable energy companies focus solely on finding ways of producing energy from renewable sources. The Ryan brothers from rural Western Australia wanted to take a more diversified approach to renewable energy. Both experienced engineers, the Ryans began testing prototypes in the corner of their father’s farm shed. They wanted their system to give back to the community in other ways, as well as create new homes and sources of food for marine life. The system fits in seamlessly within the natural environment and it has been designed to have no negative environmental impacts.
Shawn describes Bombora as an air bubble anchored underwater and says it’s similar to a series of giant foot pumps. As the wave goes over the large submerged bubble, the air is exhaled out through a series of valves and past an air turbine which spins, generating electricity. The air stays within Bombora’s system and as the wave trough passes over it, air is inhaled back into the cell, allowing the cycle to be repeated. The electricity produced by Bombora in a real-life application will be transmitted to shore through an electric cable to the electrical grid. According to Shawn, “Each unit may have the potential to supply renewable energy for 500 homes or deliver 1GL of desalinated water each year, comparable to the equivalent greenhouse gas benefit of taking approximately 852 cars off the road.” Bombora Wave Power has since had much acclaim, being selected by the leaders in the industry as winners of several innovation and renewable energy awards.
Bombora Wave Power is currently concentrating on field trial deployments and exploring a number of market opportunities and commercialization pathways.
Shawn says, “Our corporate vision is to be a world leading membrane wave energy absorber technology. We’re continuing with lab research and driving forward the iterative design process to get the business to a commercial demonstration prototype.”
Bombora is planning to have a working scaled model installed at its permitted and licensed field trial site in 2015 and is looking to accelerate its development towards achieving its corporate vision.
When Shawn began working as an engineer in 2000 he says, “It felt like in those days it was all based on price and getting the job done.”
He feels that there is a new market taking hold within the design and engineering industry and says, “These days sustainability has certainly crept into the design methodology and it’s something we carefully consider at Bombora.”
Bombora is committed to creating products that are ecologically sound in terms of their function, the materials selection and the longevity of components. With so many parts and components used in Bombora Wave Power, the team tries to use recyclable materials wherever possible and there is more of a focus on the durability and longevity of components.
After keeping their design under wraps for many years, the Ryans began to realize that letting people into their idea and showing them their concepts was the best way to progress with the innovation process. Shawn says, “To validate ideas we like to crowd source engineering. There are a lot of bright people out there and everyone has a different set of eyes and experience.”
One of the major breakthroughs for the Ryans was when they came up with the idea of using air as a medium in Bombora to allow it to retain its shape and functionality under the waves. They felt they were onto something so they decided to approach Dr. Andrew King, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Curtin University, to validate their thoughts. Once Dr. King validated the use of air as a medium in Bombora, the Ryan brothers saw the benefits of letting other people in on their idea. Shawn offers this advice, “You do have to let go of your baby to let it breathe and as soon as you start testing it with other people you work out where its meant to be.”
The Ryans performed tests in specialized tanks at The Australian Maritime College in Tasmania and ran several student programs with the college. The Ryans have worked with veterans in the industry including Dr. Matt Foley and Tom Thorpe who Shawn describes as, “The gurus of wave energy.”