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Developing a revolutionary hydroelectric generator for cruising under sail

On board renewable energy systems are becoming increasingly important for the leisure sailing fleet, as yacht owners wish to move away from using fossil fuels to generate electricity. The current systems typically feature permanent magnet generators coupled to water turbines. These use some of the water flowing over the hull to generate electricity to supply the vessel’s systems.

Falmouth-based Openarc Marine Ltd was founded by keen sailors, Mark Basham and Jim Shields. They set out to overcome a number of key drawbacks with existing technologies. Conventional systems couple the turbine directly to the generator, making them drag sensitive and limited in range and output. The Openarc system has an intelligent coupling system able to control drag and open up a wider range of operation with higher energy yields.

Openarc Marine Director, Jim Shields, explains:

“Our research showed that a high performance, low drag hydro generation system is essential for the elimination of fossil fuel generation and the ongoing shift to a cleaner marine environment. In response, we developed a concept for a new type of environmentally friendly generation system. This will overcome the problems associated with conventional systems and provide an effective way to replenish and maintain charge in the electric propulsion battery banks.

“Our innovative system introduces a completely novel approach to hydro generation, where optimisation of energy conversion efficiency has been reduced in favour of controllability. This has then been augmented by the use of a highly sophisticated control mechanism. This means that the new system can generate electricity at very low speeds, when other generators cannot.

“Because the amount of drag can be controlled, the user can choose to sacrifice speed to generate more electricity if they wish. This degree of control is an important variable and makes our product unique in the marketplace, creating a significant step forward for our industry.”

Openarc Marine engaged with Marine-i to get support in developing an operational prototype of the new system, including the build of a full size turbine. Marine-i worked with Openarc Marine to develop a four stage programme of activity covering:

  • Design review, including materials and manufacturing
  • Core system design and verification
  • Prototype testing and analysis
  • Market research into the scale of the opportunity

Prof Lars Johanning, Programme Director for Marine-i, says:

“This is a really exciting innovation from Openarc Marine, which will have global applications in the leisure sailing industry. It fits perfectly with the goals of the Marine-i project, developing new green technology with high growth potential. This project has the potential to make Openarc Marine a world leader with its pioneering approach to hydroelectric generation.”

Openarc Marine Director, Mark Basham, adds:

“We really appreciate the support that we have had from the Marine-i project. Having the help of an expert team with outstanding marine technology expertise has been a huge benefit to our business. Their support has given us the opportunity to bring this new technology to market at a much faster rate than would otherwise be possible.

“We are now at the stage of prototype development, having proven the concept through pilot testing. We will be carrying out sea trials off Falmouth in Spring 2022 and the product is expected to be launched in 2023.

“From our base in Falmouth Cornwall, we expect to create new jobs and growth in the local economy, and additional business for the local supply chain. From Cornwall, we can take our new technology to a worldwide audience.”

[Image: Openarc Marine]