Offshore Innovation in Motion

By Kira Coley

Last year, a record $376 billion was invested in the U.K.’s renewable energy sector. With the U.K. Governments 2020 renewable energy target approaching, the race is well underway to shape the future of the industry through innovative solutions which offer long-term promise in both power efficiency and affordability. Described by some as the most exciting new development in renewable energy since the invention of the solar panel, the Marine WITT (Whatever Input to Torsion Transfer) is a unique technology with the power to harness energy from motion. WITT Ltd., a new one-to-watch company based in Plymouth, U.K., are making waves in the offshore energy sector with the invention of this novel transmission system which has the ability to convert six degrees of water movement into a new source of clean power. 

 
As an island nation surrounded by abundant sources of clean energy, the U.K. has long been global leaders in offshore renewable sector. The falling costs of technology continues to boost investment as organizations work to streamline project development, reduce costs and improve the overall efficiency of renewable systems. 
 
It is an especially exciting time for Wave and Tidal energy as each year sees an increasing presence of innovative technology being tested within U.K. waters. WITT Ltd. is one such technology manufacturer, hoping to see its first product – the Marine WITT – come into production through collaborating with world leading organizations.
 
Contained within a sealed unit, the Marine WITT uses a 3D pendulum which drives the transmission system. This converts all motion, in any combination of the six degrees of freedom, into a single unidirectional rotation of a flywheel, to produce electricity. The Marine WITT is the first energy harvesting system that can capture this full spectrum, offering 100% more energy compared to any other device.
 
Martin Wickett, Chief Technology Officer and inventor of the system, built the first unit in his workshop almost a decade ago. Since then WITT has received multiple awards including the General Dynamics Gulfstream ‘Best Global Technology’ at Ocean Exchange 2013 in Savannah, Georgia; ‘Pitch@Palace’ in October 2015 and $57,000 in the Shell Springboard event in 2015. Through R&D support from companies such as Ricardo and Schaeffler, the Marine WITT has caught the attention of those in the yachting community as a potential solution for achieving zero-emission vehicles.
 
By working with a precision engineering manufacturer, Gibbs Gears, together with Schaeffler, the first robust unit is in development after completing various design iterations with input from experts such as Drive Systems Design.
 
“Working with Schaeffler and Gibbs Gears has sped up the development process significantly. We will have robust units to test in wave tanks at Plymouth in July. We have identified the best manufacturing process which will allow us to minimize costs whilst retaining a superior build quality,” said Peter Beech, WITT Ltd.
 
The power outputs generated from the wave tank testing will be used to evaluate the potential of WITT units to generate offshore grid level electrical power by connecting devices together. They also anticipate being able to meet these power requirements at a far more competitive cost compared to any other solution.
 
Last year, WITT won the Innovate U.K. Award for a feasibility study for a wave energy project. Now, working as part of a consortium, the project looks to ascertain a harmonized cost of energy for a range of device sizes in order to identify priority applications. The consortium is made up of Gibbs Gears, Schaeffler, DNV GL, Mojo Maritime, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (OREC) and three universities; Bristol, Plymouth and Southampton. 
 
The power output will be dependent on several factors – namely the amount of motional energy available as well as the design of the containment and mooring configuration in marine applications. University of Glasgow’s School of Mechanical Engineering has produced energy graphs demonstrating the potential of different sized units suited to a wide range of applications.
 
“We are extremely excited about the potential for this product for several reasons,” said Beech. “Firstly, is its scalability, from a small unit for personal use to grid scale power generation - the bigger the unit the more potential there is to harvest larger amounts of power. Collaborating with companies, who have the technical knowledge and the resources, is vital to bringing a new product to a renewable energy market that has stalled somewhat in technological development.” 
 
The WITT collects energy from any naturally occurring movement whether in the air, on the ocean surface, subsea and on land. This offers power in a much more diverse range of areas including very harsh environments with less environmental and aesthetic impact. At present, a WITT 200 watt is being developed to provide a power solution in a range of applications such as desalination and emergency power.
 
The system harvests power from surge and pitch, sway and roll, with no shock load, producing twice the capacity for wave power conversion than other devices on the market. WITT are working with the consortium in the wave energy project to design, build and test a sealed Marine WITT for wave tank testing, with the aim of bringing it into manufacture for sale to customers from mid-2017. 
 
“There have been many challenges, acceptance being one of the early ones,” said Beech. “Few people initially believed that one man had solved a problem that large companies had spent millions of pounds on trying to overcome. Once the worldwide patents had been approved, early trials proved the concept worked and different markets were identified. Then it was a case of finding the right companies to work with to bring a final prototype for testing prior to manufacture.” 
 
The WITT has potential in many onshore and offshore markets and will be open to discussions with companies seeking to license the technology. A smaller WITT in the near future will also be developed to provide 10 to 15 watts of power for autonomous vessels, buoys and marine safety equipment. While at present the company does not envisage a market on gliders or Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), WITT Ltd. also want to provide autonomous power for sensors and telemetry solutions, as well as beacons for safety at sea.
 
“There are many lifesaving and ocean survival applications where energy power is needed and we are delighted to have the RNLI and global survival company, Survitec, wanting to deploy our WITTs at sea,” said Beech. “Back onshore, WITT is in discussions with Ricardo regarding a small unit for harvesting energy from walking. We will also develop a smaller, personal consumer, WITT units, which will allow mobile phones, torch or radio batteries and similar to be charged while on the move.”
 
WITT will continue to showcase products at worldwide exhibitions and conferences whilst looking for new and exciting uses for the novel system.
 
 
(As published in the April 2016 edition of Marine Technology Reporter)
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