Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Taming the Ocean

Florida has an energy crisis, and researchers at FAU’s SeaTech campus say they can solve it. Their plan is to generate power using underwater windmills driven by the Gulf Stream, an energy-dense ocean current that’s about 10 to 12 miles off the coast of South Florida in some places.

They say it’s environment-friendly. It won’t run out, and the technology can be applied all over the world. They’re even confident that their plan will eventually replace fossil fuels and nuclear power as a main energy source. The only problem: They need to figure out how to make it all work and build it.æ

Luckily, FAU researchers have $5 million to help them. FAU was one of six Florida universities to win a state-sponsored grant from the Florida Technology, Research and Scholarship Board for this project. And the undersea windmill idea, originally dreamed up by a student at FAU’s SeaTech campus for a class, beat out 32 other proposals vying for the money.

Not bad for a midsize university that didn’t even have a formal research program five years ago.

“Winning this money is a step in the right direction,” says Larry Lemanski, vice president of research at FAU. “If we can make this renewable energy idea work, it will revolutionize the way we think of energy. People will take us seriously as a research university.”

While the whole project will take more than a decade, SeaTech researchers say their goal is to have a turbine in the water within a year and have the technology ready to go commercial in three to five years.

Lake Worth could be the first city to test the turbine technology, says Frederick Driscoll, an assistant professor of ocean engineering and the researcher heading up the project. However, “nothing is definite yet. We are still talking with city officials.”

Before tests can start, though, there are a number of questions that have to be answered.

FAU researchers have to decide which technologies will do the job best. They’ll also have to solve a number of logistical problems, like how to transport roughly 130-foot-wide turbines and secure them on the ocean floor once they’re built and how to keep ocean life away from the 49-foot blades of the propellers.

“It takes time to develop new technology like this mostly because no one has done it before…also because it requires people from many disciplines to work together,” says Lemanski. “This isn’t an easy process.”

But with great risks come great rewards, and, in FAU’s case, a chance to become a “technology leader.”

“Florida is in an absolute energy crisis that is largely being ignored,” Driscoll says. “Ninety-nine percent of our electricity comes from out of state. We are at the point where a single set of failures could cause everything to come tumbling down.”

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