CCell Provides the Energy to Save Coral Reefs

British wave energy start-up Zyba has teamed up with Biorock, which builds artificial coral reefs with the hope of simultaneously providing energy and coastal protection for islands. It has developed a new curved technology, the CCell, with a lightweight design that allows it to capture a greater amount of the ocean’s awesome power than its competitors.

Working with Biorock – both the company and technology name – Zyba hopes to provide island communities with a new source of clean and reliable energy. The power will also be used in the construction of coral reefs, which provide important coastal protection and bustling ecosystems for marine wildlife.

Hidden among the reefs, the CCells will take advantage of the total theoretical global wave energy potential of 32 petawatt (PW) hours per year. So far, no large-scale application for wave technologies has been successful and so Zyba is championing a smaller-scale approach. The power it creates is designed to enter the grid network and work alongside other renewable sources.

Symmetric vs asymmetric wave energy devices

The concept of the CCell arose from the company’s founder, William Bateman, asking a simple question: “The energy in the ocean leads from the open ocean towards the shore, so it’s an asymmetric problem,” he says. “All I fundamentally did was question why are people making symmetric devices.

“I never meant to start a business in wave energy but I was looking at their devices and they were all symmetric, so they were either round or they were flat.”

Bateman went to University College London in 2012, where he asked friends to test a curved panel against a flat one. The results came back vastly in favour of a curved panel, which moved 40% more than the flat one, based on wave motion. As testing continued, researchers showed that as the wave hits the face of the panel, the curved shape forces the energy towards the central core where it could be collected. Additionally, the shoreward face of the panel is subject to less stress than a flat panel because the convex shape cuts through the water smoothly, reducing the risk of the panel becoming damaged in rough weather.

From this point, the project snowballed into Zyba and the patented CCell technology. With prototypes and testing complete, the final CCell was made comprising a glass and carbon fibre composite, making it light, flexible and, importantly, corrosion-resistant to increase its lifespan in seawater. There is only one moving part in each of the modular units and it has the highest known power-to-weight ratio of any wave device.

A symbiotic relationship protecting reefs

Zyba aims to tackle energy problems that large sources, such as offshore wind, cannot. “We have really moved away from using wave power for grid-scale electricity generation in the short term, but instead really trying to carve out a niche where wave energy is unique and actually has a significant intrinsic benefit,” says Bateman. “That’s really come about in the last six to nine months. Our focus at the moment has really been on coastal protection using a combination of the CCells and our partner’s technology, which is called Biorock.”

Biorock has been developed over the last 30 years by Professor Wolf Hilbertz, who died in 2007, and Dr Tom Goreau, as a way to grow artificial concrete. Biorock uses electrolysis to create a limescale-like substance by attracting the minerals in seawater. The rock this creates grows incredibly fast, as much as several centimetres a year, and is incredibly strong.

“The biggest single challenge for Biorock has always been its thirst for power at sea, conversely, we’re coming into a market where we are generating this power at sea and we need to get it to shore,” explains Bateman.

The companies have thus formed a partnership that allows them to build artificial concrete that protects coastal areas, while bringing in revenue from renewable energy production. “By collaborating with Biorock we are developing a symbiotic relationship in which we provide them with the power that they need,” says Bateman. “Equally, we can position our device where Biorock is growing a reef, so they are providing protection and fundamentally mass which helps to keep our unit in position.”

Clean and cool energy, despite challenges

As a start-up, Zyba’s main challenge throughout development has been financing. “For a physical product, where you have to do lab testing or actually offshore deployments, the costs are relatively high,” says Bateman. “When you’re doing the research and testing, you don’t really have time to be applying for funding, and then you get to the end of one round of funding and you have to stop and think, where am I getting the next bit? Obviously, you try to overlap them but often the funding doesn’t overlap so you do spend a lot of time and concern on how to grow in a sensible way.”

However, increased recognition for the technology over the past year has led to greater opportunities. Zyba was chosen to be part of the Clean+Cool Mission, organised by Long Run Works and sponsored by Innovate UK and the Department of International Trade it connects start-ups with investors in Silicon Valley, California, and allows entrepreneurs to share and develop ideas.

“Earlier this year we were selected alongside a group of 19 other companies to represent the greatest and the best of UK clean tech,” says Bateman. “It’s really interesting talking to the people over there because their attitude to start-ups is very, very different to what we see in the UK. It’s almost like everyone has a start-up, everyone’s got something going on in their garage and it’s all very chaotic.”

The trip encouraged the Zyba team to work on making changes in big increments by targeting smaller savings, leading to a focus on the nitty-gritty of the supply chain. “We originally thought that we’d manufacture the devices in the UK because the tooling behind the construction of our composite paddles was one of the major costs,” says Bateman. “Over the last six months we’ve actually been able to drive down the cost of our tooling for our relatively small device, from about £50,000 down to almost £2,500. The cheaper tooling is actually a better product – it’s a better module than the one we’d been quoted £50,000 for.”

Following Clean+Cool, Zyba decided to ship flat pack paddle moulds instead of the paddles themselves. It will provide local craftsmen, particularly yacht builders who are used to the required composite materials and methods, with the moulds and tools to make the CCell close to where it will be installed. This will help reduce the cost of the CCell, as well as supporting local communities.

Connecting wave energy to the grid

Zyba hopes the first CCell will be running offshore next year. “We are working really hard to get a row of devices installed just off the coast of Mexico,” says Bateman. “Hopefully by January, at the latest March, next year, it’ll be installed. What’s constraining us at the moment is overcoming some of the regulatory hurdles.”

CCells will be positioned along the coast of the island of Cozumel, starting with just one module. “The vision is that you would install one just to start with, just to make sure that you understand the local conditions and everything is correct, and then in the following years install in a line of devices along the shore,” explains Bateman.

Energy will then be transported underground to the island, where it will enter the grid system and work alongside other power sources. “Give or take 10%-20% of the energy that we generate will be needed to grow the Biorock, and the rest of that power we can then provide as an export to shore,” says Bateman.

The CCell could help provide clean, renewable power for small island communities, while protecting the coast and the underwater environment from the ocean. It’s a technology that kills two birds with one stone, and showcases a lot of potential on a small scale.

CCell: the energy to save coral


Biorock Electric Reefs Grow Back Severely Eroded Beaches in Months

marine science and engineering

Biorock Electric Reefs Grow Back Severely Eroded Beaches in Months

Thomas J. F. Goreau 1,2  and  Paulus Prong 2,3

Global Coral Reef Alliance, 37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Biorock Indonesia, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Pulau Gangga Dive Resort, Sulawesi 95253, Indonesia
 
Abstract
Severely eroded beaches on low lying islands in Indonesia were grown back in a few months—believed to be a record—using an innovative method of shore protection, Biorock electric reef technology. Biorock shore protection reefs are growing limestone structures that get stronger with age and repair themselves, are cheaper than concrete or rock sea walls and breakwaters, and are much more effective at shore protection and beach growth. Biorock reefs are permeable, porous, growing, self-repairing structures of any size or shape, which dissipate wave energy by internal refraction, diffraction, and frictional dissipation. They do not cause reflection of waves like hard sea walls and breakwaters, which erodes the sand in front of, and then underneath, such structures, until they collapse. Biorock reefs stimulate settlement, growth, survival, and resistance to the environmental stress of all forms of marine life, restoring coral reefs, sea grasses, biological sand production, and fisheries habitat. Biorock reefs can grow back eroded beaches and islands faster than the rate of sea level rise, and are the most cost-effective method of shore protection and adaptation to global sea level rise for low lying islands and coasts.
 
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Coastal Sea Levels, Impacts and Adaptation)
 

This Coral Restoration Technique Is ‘Electrifying’ a Balinese Village

The technique is also changing attitudes and inspiring locals to preserve their natural treasures

smithsonian.com 
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Under the waters in Pemuteran, in Bali, this structure might be helping restore a coral reef. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)

As you walk the beach in Pemuteran, a tiny fishing village on the northwest coast of Bali, Indonesia, be careful not to trip on the power cables snaking into the turquoise waves. At the other end of those cables are coral reefs that are thriving with a little help from a low-voltage electrical current.

These electrified reefs grow much faster, backers say. The process, known as Biorock, could help restore these vital ocean habitats at a critical time. Warming waters brought on by climate change threaten many of the world’s coral reefs, and huge swaths have bleached in the wake of the latest El Niño.

Skeptics note that there isn’t much research comparing Biorock to other restoration techniques. They agree, however, that what’s happening with the people of Pemuteran is as important as what’s going on with the coral.

Dynamite and cyanide fishing had devastated the reefs here. Their revival could not have succeeded without a change in attitude and the commitment of the people of Pemuteran to protect them.

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A Pemuteran resident assembles one of the Biorock reef restoration structures. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)

Pemuteran is home to the world’s largest Biorock reef restoration project. It began in 2000, after a spike in destructive fishing methods had ravaged the reefs, collapsed fish stocks and ruined the nascent tourism industry.  A local scuba shop owner heard about the process and invited the inventors, Tom Goreau and Wolf Hilbertz, to try it out in the bay in front of his place.

Herman was one of the workers who built the first structure. (Like many Indonesians, he goes by just one name.) He was skeptical.

“How (are we) growing the coral ourselves?” he wondered. “What we know is, this belongs to god, or nature. How can we make it?”

A coral reef is actually a collection of tiny individuals called polyps. Each polyp lays down a layer of calcium carbonate beneath itself as it grows and divides, forming the reef’s skeleton. Biorock saves the polyps the trouble. When electrical current runs through steel under seawater, calcium carbonate forms on the surface. (The current is low enough that it won’t hurt the polyps, reef fish or divers.)

Hilbertz, an archihtect, patented the Biorock process in the 1970s as a way to build underwater structures. Coral grows on these structures extremely well. Polyps attached to Biorock take the energy they would have devoted to building calcium carbonate skeletons and apply it toward growing, or warding off diseases.

Hilbertz’s colleague Goreau is a marine scientist, and he put Biorock to work as a coral-restoration tool. The duo says that electrified reefs grow from two to six times faster than untreated reefs, and survive high temperatures and other stresses better.

Herman didn’t believe it would work. But, he says, he was “just a worker. Whatever the boss says, I do.”

So he and some other locals bought some heavy cables and a power supply. They welded some steel rebar into a mesh frame and carried it into the bay. They attached pieces of living coral broken off other reefs. They hooked it all up. And they waited.

Within days, minerals started to coat the metal bars. And the coral they attached to the frame started growing.

“I was surprised,” Herman says. “I said, damn! We did this!”

“We started taking care of it, like a garden,” he adds. “And we started to love it.”

Now, there are more than 70 Biorock reefs around Pemuteran, covering five acres of ocean floor.

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(Rani Morrow-Wuigk)

But experts are cautious about Biorock’s potential. “It certainly does appear to work,” says Tom Moore, who leads coral restoration work in the U.S. Caribbean for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

However, he adds, “what we’ve been lacking, and what’s kept the scientific community from embracing it, is independent validation.” He notes that nearly all the studies about Biorock published in the scientific literature are authored by the inventors themselves.

And very little research compares growth rates or long-term fitness of Biorock reefs to those restored by other techniques. Moore’s group has focused on restoring endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals. A branch snipped off these types will grow its own branches, which themselves can be snipped and regrown.

He says they considered trying Biorock, but with the exponential expansion they were doing, “We were growing things plenty fast. Growing them a little faster wasn’t going to help us.”

Plus, the need for a constant power supply limits Biorock’s potential, he adds. But climate change is putting coral reefs in such dire straits that Biorock may get a closer look, Moore says.

The two endangered corals his group works on “are not the only two corals in the [Caribbean] system. They’re also not the only two corals listed under the Endangered Species Act. We’ve had the addition of a number of new corals in the last two years.” These slower-growing corals are harder to propagate.

“We’re actively looking for new techniques,” Moore adds. That includes Biorock. “I want to keep a very much open mind.”

But there’s one thing he’s sure about. “Regardless of my skepticism of whether Biorock is any better than any of the other techniques,” he says, “it’s engaging the community in restoration. It’s changing value sets. [That’s] absolutely critical.”

earthday_and_school_children_from_pemuteran.jpg__800x450_q85_crop_upscaleYayasan Karang Lestari Pemuteran, the local nonprofit that works with the creators of Biorock, also makes environmental education a priority. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)

Pemuteran was one of Bali’s poorest villages. Many depend on the ocean for subsistence. The climate is too dry to grow rice, the national staple. Residents grow corn instead, but “only one time a year because we don’t get enough water,” says Komang Astika, a dive manager at Pemuteran’s Biorock Information Center, whose parents are farmers. “Of course it will not be enough,” he adds.

Chris Brown, a computer engineer, arrived in Pemuteran in 1992 in semi-retirement. He planned to, as he put it, trade in his pinstripe suit for a wetsuit and become a dive instructor.

There wasn’t much in Pemuteran back then. Brown says there were a couple good reefs offshore, “but also a lot of destruction going on, with dynamite fishing and using potassium cyanide to collect aquarium fish.” A splash of the poison will stun fish. But it kills many more, and it does long-lasting damage to the reef habitat.

When he spotted fishermen using dynamite or cyanide, he’d call the police. But that didn’t work too well at first, he says.

“In those days the police would come and hesitantly arrest the people, and the next day they’d be [released] because the local villagers would come and say, ‘that’s my family. You’ve got to release them or we’ll [protest].’”

But Brown spent years getting to know the people of Pemuteran. Over time, he says, they grew to trust him. He remembers a pivotal moment in the mid-1990s. The fisheries were collapsing, but the local fishermen didn’t understand why. Brown was sitting on the beach with some local fishermen, watching some underwater video Brown had just shot.

One scene showed a destroyed reef. It was “just coral rubble and a few tiny fish swimming around.” In the next scene, “there’s some really nice coral reefs and lots of fish. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, they’re going to go out and attack the areas of good coral because there’s good fish there.’”

That’s not what happened.

“One of the older guys actually said, ‘So, if there’s no coral, there’s no fish. If there’s good coral, there’s lots of fish.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘So we’d better protect the good coral because we need more fish.’

“Then I thought, ‘These people aren’t stupid, as many people were saying. They’re just educated differently.’”

pejalang.jpg__800x450_q85_crop_upscaleLocals formed a coast guard to protect their reefs after they started to understand the connection between healthy reefs and healthy fish. (Rani Morrow-Wuigk)

It wasn’t long before the people of Pemuteran would call the police on destructive fishermen.

But sometimes, Brown still took the heat.

Once, when locals called the police on cyanide fishers from a neighboring village, Brown says, people from that village “came back later with a big boat full of people from the other village wielding knives and everything and yelling, ‘Bakar, bakar!’ which means ‘burn, burn.’ They wanted to burn down my dive shop.”

But the locals defended Brown. “They confronted these other [fishermen] and said, ‘It wasn’t the foreigner who called the police. It was us, the fishermen from this village. We’re sick and tired of you guys coming in and destroying [the reefs].’”

That’s when local dive shop owner Yos Amerta started working with Biorock’s inventors. The turnaround was fast, dramatic and effective. As the coral grew, fish populations rebounded. And the electrified reefs drew curious tourists from around the world.

One survey found that “forty percent of tourists visiting Pemuteran were not only aware of village coral restoration efforts, but came to the area specifically to see the rejuvenated reefs,” according to the United Nations Development Program. The restoration work won UNDP’s Equator Prize in 2012, among other accolades.

Locals are working as dive leaders and boat drivers, and the new hotels and restaurants offer another market for the locals’ catch.

“Little by little, the economy is rising,” says the Biorock Center’s Astika. “[People] can buy a motorbike, [children] can go to school. Now, some local people already have hotels.”

Herman, who helped build the first Biorock structure, now is one of those local hotel owners. He says the growing tourism industry has helped drive a change in attitudes among the people in Pemuteran.

“Because they earn money from the environment, they will love it,” he says.

Original Article: Smithsonian.com