The Ocean Exchange

We often argue that the emphasis on adaptation and mitigation of adverse environmental circumstance and continuing degradation of the coast and deep ocean is not the ultimate answer for the future. Surely, as we have in the past, we must invent our way forward, understanding our mistakes, applying what we know, and applying our minds to best intentions and new ideas. While we look to governance to address compelling issues, we must also recognize the truth to be found in the details, in small innovations that address specific needs with revolutionary improvements. We are looking for solutions.

The Ocean Exchange, a recently founded organization based in the United States, is an excellent example of how solutions can be identified and catalyzed by promoting innovations in materials, devices, processes, and systems, connecting innovators and organizations, advocating for collaborations, and providing capital investment through an annual contest and financial awards. Here are four recent prizewinners, small but remarkable practices and inventions that address key ocean problems.

1. The Witt Energy Device is capable of capturing all chaotic motion and turning it into useable power could be used on commercial ships in the relatively near future to increase efficiency and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Installed on ships, the self-contained device has few moving parts and collects energy from all dimensions of wave movement and transfers it to a flywheel to convert pitch and roll, up and down motion, into renewable power for scalable applications from battery charging to onboard refrigeration and heating to retrofits on navigational buoys, data gathering observation devices, and even small vessels. The unit would work 24/7, with negligible environmental impact, and with an efficiency that would significantly reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels and conventional power units.

2. ECOsubsea, a Norwegian company, has developed a robotic-driven, in-port machine to clean algal growth and other environmental accumulation from the bottoms of ships to decrease drag, increase fuel efficiency by 5 – 15%, reduce air emissions through resultant conservation, collect and dispose of invasive species, and otherwise handle 97% of such waste underwater at reduced cost and within the increasing environmental regulations of ports and harbors.

3. EcoConcrete is a three level system for renewal of marine infrastructure such as breakwaters, sea walls, piles and pillars that protect our ports, piers, and shipping channels – a new concrete composition that meets the formal requirements for marine construction, while creating a surface texture and coating that provides ecological surfaces that support the support and growth of shell fish and filter fishing communities. The resultant biological recruitment also protects these constructs from deterioration and damage from an aggressive salt-water environment. Units are designed to support biogenic buildup, calcium carbonate deposition by marine organisms such as oysters, mussels, barnacles and corals which cover the substrate, add volume, weight and contribute to its stability. In effect, EcoConcrete shifts these structures from dead zones to new habitat for increased biodiversity.

4. Download the Ocean uses science of oceanography to create data products designed to save fuel, reduce emissions and improve efficiency for the shipping industry. Utilizing hydrodynamic models, satellite and ocean observations to include tidal streams, ocean currents, sea surface temperature and wave forecasts, data products are constructed, converted, formatted and made available for download to ship navigation and voyage optimization systems via a custom application designed to save fuel, reduce emissions, and improve efficiency for the shipping industry on every passage.

In 2013, the compound effects of high oil prices, environmental regulation and over capacity motivated ship operators to use “slow steaming” as a technique to save fuel and emission and increase profitability. A nominal speed reduction from 27 knots to 18 knots reduces fuel consumption by 75%. In 2010, 73 percent of the Maersk Line fleet was slow steaming. Using Download the Ocean, commercial trials and simulations have shown savings of between 1 – 12% in either time or fuel consumed on commercial shipping routes. A 1% reduction represents a saving of approximately 13 million tons of CO2 from global shipping in 2013.

These may seem small things, but they signify the impetus for invention, each adds to the total calculation of energy conserved through alternative ideas that taken together result in serious measurable outcomes. Thanks to all these inventors, entrepreneurs, the sponsors, and forward-thinkers at The Ocean Exchange.