Empowering the Seafloor
The Seaformatics project is led by a team of researchers and engineers based out of the St. John’s, NL campus of Memorial University (MUN). Seaformatics began life as a project targeted at applications such as subsea geological imaging and earthquake detection, but its evolution has seen a greater emphasis placed on subsea power harvesting technology, a key area of interest to those seeking to pursue ventures in cold ocean conditions, particularly in the Arctic. This focus has resulted in the creation of an innovative seabed instrumentation platform with unique power harvesting capabilities and diverse potential commercial and research applications.
Seaformatics began in 2007as an Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) project, and was led by Dr. Vlastimil Masek of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.
The power-harvesting Seaformatics ‘Pod’ is the group’s crowning achievement and is rapidly approaching the stage of real-world commercial application. The Pod utilizes a patented 1.5m diameter floating horizontal-axis turbine and flexible attachment which harvests energy from ocean currents and stores the energy in an attached battery pack. The flexible attachment mechanism not only tethers the turbine to a 600kg base which sits on the seabed, but also allows it to orient with water flow while resisting twist.
“So it’s able to harvest power from low speed flows in basically any direction,” explains Seaformatics Project Manager and Co-founder, Andrew Cook, who adds that they are targeting up to two-year deployments for the pods, which are retrievable thanks to an acoustically-activated release system that allows the floating turbine to rise back to the surface.
It is a versatile instrumentation platform designed to monitor the subsea and seabed environment, and can support a variety of sensors. In addition to the original targeted applications such as geological imaging and earthquake detection, the system can also be utilized in other marine science, environmental monitoring and security/defense applications.
When deployed as an array, the Pods are able to communicate with each other and to the surface via an acoustic network, facilitating ocean monitoring from the shore.
“The advantage of an array is that you can cover a wide area with a number of sensors,” explains Cook. “Also, some wide area systems now are cabled, but the cost is extremely high, so this is a kind of middle ground that spans the gap between battery-only powered systems and cabled systems in terms of the power and communications bandwidth available.” The team has also developed a novel fibre-optic-based 3D seismometer, but it is the power-harvesting Pod that is currently the group’s main focus.
“Early on we also focused on sensors, but as time went on we saw the really high value part was the idea of not having to go offshore and change batteries, or in harsh environments where battery changes are difficult,” says Cook. “Now we are really focused on power harvesting technologies, and that’s the technology that we’re going to take and spin out of the university.”
Seaformatics is currently engaged in advanced discussions about bringing this unique technology to market, and is an example of the kind of innovative, world-leading cold ocean research and development, with a focus on practical applications, that is prevalent throughout the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.