TAM­ING WILD WAVES

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Engi­neers at the Vi­enna Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (TU Wien) have de­vel­oped the He­liofloat, a cre­ative so­lu­tion to plac­ing so­lar pan­els on choppy seas.

Wild waves have, up to now, been the big­gest ob­sta­cle to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of so­lar farms on the world’s oceans. But a new light­weight con­struc­tion method has as­sisted the de­sign of plat­forms 100 me­tres long that now re­main steady and firmly in place, even in rough con­di­tions.

Pro­fes­sor Markus Haider, from the In­sti­tute for En­ergy Sys­tems and Ther­mo­dy­nam­ics, said: “The key to this is that He­liofloat is sup­ported by open floata­tion de­vices.

“Were a plat­form to be sim­ply mounted onto air-filled, closed con­tain­ers, the de­sign of the con­struc­tion would have to be in­ef­fi­ciently heavy and ro­bust in or­der to be able to with­stand heavy waves.”

The He­liofloat plat­form is sup­ported by open flota­tion de­vices sim­i­lar to down­ward-fac­ing bar­rels. They are made from a soft, flex­i­ble float­ing ma­te­rial. The up­per sec­tion con­tains air that can­not es­cape, but which comes into di­rect con­tact with the wa­ter be­low. The col­umn of air acts as the pri­mary shock ab­sorber, while the flex­i­ble side walls ab­sorb small, hor­i­zon­tal forces.

This new con­struc­tion method al­lows ar­eas the size of foot­ball fields to be made avail­able on the wa­ter with ease. The re­search team at TU Wien has de­vel­oped con­cepts for har­ness­ing the sun over the wa­ter us­ing pho­to­voltaics and par­a­bolic-shaped mir­rored troughs, while many fur­ther pos­si­ble ap­pli­ca­tions are also be­ing con­sid­ered.

Dr Roland Eisl, Di­rec­tor of He­liofloat GmbH, said: “He­liofloat plat­forms of­fer new pos­si­bil­i­ties for de­sali­na­tion plants and biomass ex­trac­tion pro­cesses for salt wa­ter.

“In hot coun­tries, He­liofloat plat­forms could be utilised to pro­tect lakes against dry­ing up.”

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