St Edmund Hall academics to lead tidal energy project for carbon emission reduction and energy security

30 Jun 2023

Design innovation for future scalable tidal stream energy systems. (Zilic de Arcos, DPhil thesis, 2021)
Design innovation for future scalable tidal stream energy systems. (Zilic de Arcos, DPhil thesis, 2021)

Richard Willden, Oxford University Professor of Engineering Science and Tutor in Engineering Science at St Edmund Hall and Paul Goulart, Associate Professor and Tutor in Engineering Science at the Hall are part of a new ambitious £7 million project to help deliver scalable, affordable and sustainable tidal stream energy. This project is backed by investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will work to boost energy security and potentially enable tidal stream energy to make a meaningful contribution to achieving UK net zero goals.

Professor Willden is the Project Lead and with Professor Goulart and academic teams from across the Universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and Strathclyde will lead a multi-disciplinary research team investigating ‘Co-design to deliver Scalable Tidal Stream Energy’ (CoTide). The group will work to make renewable energy generation from ocean tides cheaper, more reliable and scalable. The CoTide project will develop integrated engineering tools and solutions, together with concept designs complemented by laboratory demonstrators. Professor Willden comments:

“We have a huge opportunity as a country to harness the powerful tides that surround us and use innovative engineering to develop greater energy security and clean energy to help us meet our 2050 net zero goals. This EPSRC investment in CoTide allows us to bring together world-class engineering expertise and drive forward the kind of creative, collaborative research that will ensure the UK remains a world-leader in tidal stream development and deployment.”

Achieving the UK’s target to reach net zero by 2050 requires the decarbonisation of all our energy supplies and a huge expansion of renewable generation from the current 50GW to 120-300GW.

The powerful tides that surround the UK remain under-utilised but have huge potential as a source of greener power that could make a significant contribution to this goal. Plus, unlike the wind and the sun, tides ebb and flow at predictable times every day and so have the advantage that they can provide power that is both renewable and reliable.

Unlike more traditional tidal barrages and tidal lagoons that require turbines to be installed in structures such as dams or sea walls, tidal stream turbines are fixed directly out at sea in the line of the strongest, most suitable tidal flows. As such, they are cheaper to build and install, and crucially have less of an environmental impact.

Oxford’s combined current and wave flume for ocean engineering research.

If fully developed nationally these systems have the potential to generate in excess of 6GW, enough to power over 5 million homes, with an export market worth £25bn supporting over 25 thousand marine energy jobs. But technical challenges remain, and tidal stream systems require careful design to maximise power whilst providing reliability in hostile marine environments characterised by corrosive seawater and unsteady loading caused by waves, turbulence and sheared flows.

To tackle this, CoTide will bring together three multi-disciplinary teams, each with deep world-leading expertise across all relevant areas, including device hydrodynamics, rotor materials, corrosion, risk and reliability, environmental modelling, and system control and optimisation. Together, the researchers will integrate these constituent elements into holistic design processes that will significantly reduce costs by removing unnecessary redundancy and improving engineering solutions and processes. Professor Willden added:

“Through a unified co-design approach, CoTide will develop a framework to assess the impact of design decisions and will contribute fundamental understanding of how to achieve through-life reliability in addition to maximising the potential of digitalisation for optimal performance.”

The project will also have a strong focus on increasing the sustainability of tidal stream systems. For instance, the team will explore new methods to assess the environmental and ecological impacts of future tidal stream farms, and whether turbine blades could be manufactured from bio-based materials that can degrade at the end of their life.

CoTide will build on the Oxford team’s unique experience and capabilities in designing and testing high-performance turbines, which have been developed through Professor Willden’s EPSRC Advanced Fellowship, as well as Professor Goulart’s expertise in numerical optimisation methods and control for embedded systems. The project will capitalise on Oxford’s recent investment in a state-of-the-art current and wave flume that will allow turbine and platform designs to be rapidly tested under harsh environmental conditions.

Further information can be found on the CoTide website or the University of Oxford press release.

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