Science & Environment

Spectacular wave tank opens in Edinburgh

Media captionMaking waves and turning the tide - FloWave is a world-leading facility

A spectacular new wave tank - the first of its kind in the world - has opened at Edinburgh University.

The FloWave Ocean Energy Research Facility can simulate waves 28m high - and tidal currents simultaneously.

Its circular shape means waves have no reflections and can come from multiple directions, to mimic stormy seas.

It can recreate any point on Britain's coastline, allowing marine energy systems to be tested and refined.

Mermaid's tail

Spectacular water spouts and a "mermaid's tail" were demonstrated to visitors during its launch at Edinburgh's King's Buildings campus.

But the real trick, say engineers, is the ability to model complex sea conditions around Cornwall, the Western Isles and other sites where future wave and tidal power stations may be located.

Choppy seas can be combined with an Atlantic swell. And the tide can be turned at any time mid-experiment, just as it does at sea.

"This tank is as close as you get to real sea on dry land", said Prof Robin Wallace, Chair in Renewable Energy Systems at Edinburgh University.

"What's unique is it is round, and it combines waves and currents - 'making waves and turning the tide' as we like to say.

"You can do the big party pieces and everybody gasps. But the hardest thing of the lot is to recreate real conditions in the North Sea - what we call 'multispectral' patterns.

"If you've got a full orchestra and somebody asks you to perform a particular piece, you're equipped to play it - and we've got the equivalent here - the full spectrum."

Accelerated testing

The wave power industry is evolving from single devices to arrays of multiple units - and FloWave has the capacity to house these.

The 25m tank enables testing at 1/20th scale, filling a gap between small laboratory units and full-scale marine facilities like the European Marine Energy Centre (Emec) in Orkney.

It can generate waves up to 1m high in any direction and currents underneath of 1m per second.

Scaling up - this allows it to simulate waves up to 28m high and currents of up to 14 knots.

"It's representative of any UK coastal waters and most prime wave and tidal sites around the world," Prof Wallace told BBC News.

Image caption Making waves and turning the tide - FloWave is a world-leading facility

"But it's not just for energy developers - anyone putting equipment into the sea could test their device here. For example, ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) manufacturers practising tow-outs, or floating offshore wind platforms."

The tank is already helping clients like Albatern refine performance of their wave power devices before they enter open water.

Testing in tanks can enable research milestones to be achieved in days or weeks, compared with months or years in open water, say FloWave's creators.

This accelerated development should help bring clean energy products to market more quickly and cost-effectively, at lower risk.

The £9.5m facility was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Edinburgh University.

Prof Philip Nelson, EPSRC chief executive, said: "The FloWave facility will help keep the UK at the forefront of marine energy technology research and development.

"Research here can accelerate the deployment of these technologies which, in turn, will help us meet our low-carbon targets create jobs and boost growth."

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