A Moment of Science

Wave Power

You've heard of solar power and wind power as sources of alternative energy, but have you heard of wave power?

Wave-machine Model of Clay

Photo: kumasawa (flickr)

A type of simple "artificial muscle" made of rubberized material may soon enable us to tap the ocean's vast potential as a source of alternative power.

You’ve heard of solar power and wind power as sources of alternative energy, but have you heard of wave power?

For several years scientists have experimented with ways to use the up and down motion of waves to generate energy. But so far, wave-powered technologies have been cumbersome and therefore limited.

Now, though, a type of simple “artificial muscle” made of rubberized material may soon enable us to tap the ocean’s vast potential as a source of alternative power. When stretched, the material gives off an electrical charge. Scientists at the non-profit research institute SRI International have figured out ways to stretch and contract the muscle by attaching it to buoys bobbing in the ocean waves.

Imagine thousands of power-generating buoys, or a buoy farm, if you will, and the possibilities for wave generated power seem endless. Large scale wave power generators could feed energy into existing power grids, or be used to power ships at sea. The technology could be especially useful for remote coastal and island communities that depend on imported fossil fuels.

However, so far, the material has been tested only on a small scale. A small muscle attached to a single buoy has been shown to generate enough electricity to power a single light bulb.

As oil reserves dwindle, and our overdependence on fossil fuels warms the globe, alternative sources of energy are more vital than ever. With further testing, wave power could emerge as one of our energy alternatives.

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