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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 2 (2012 Deadline)

Technical development and field-testing of a self-contained, inexpensive wave energy converter device

PI: Tho Nguyen (Tan Tao University)
U.S. Partner: Brian Bingham (University of Hawaii)
Project Dates: August 2013 to July 2015
 
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 Vietnam Partnership Picture A
Instruments for the SEAWEED project are lowered into the housing (Photo courtesy Dr. Nguyen).

This project seeks to further the technical development of an inexpensive, long-term-field-deployable wave energy converter device (named the SEAWEED for “self-efficient, adaptable wave energy extraction device”). The primary purpose of the SEAWEED is to provide for the basic electrical needs of people living in underdeveloped and remote coastal communities in Vietnam and around the world. Wave energy converter technologies exist around the world today, mostly via large-scale projects requiring high amounts of government and corporate resource commitments and capital investments. This leaves a gap where underdeveloped and remote communities around the world are yet able to benefit from this source of energy. This research project focuses on developing the SEAWEED by increasing its mechanical and electrical efficiency through design and testing, reducing the cost of the device through testing various material or component supplementations, exploring potential capability expansion and uses (for example, as an ocean sensor platform), and conducting long-term field testing to explore the feasibility of widespread application.
The SEAWEED project is an innovative and novel endeavor to take wave energy conversion technologies from massive large-scale implementations to cheap, simple, small-scale applications that benefit the underserved sectors of the world. SEAWEED is a concrete effort toward combating global climate change through the use of renewable energy resources. While inroads have been made with developed countries’ initiatives into harnessing wave energy, these efforts have yet to reach underserved communities where the technology is, arguably, more needed. There is very strong potential for follow-up investigations into using the SEAWEED devices as distributed, self-sufficient sea buoys for the purposes of ocean surface monitoring and communication relays. Widespread ocean data collected from implementation of the SEAWEED worldwide may prove valuable to the broader ocean engineering and climate science community as a whole.
Summary of Recent Activities
During the final year of his project in 2015, Dr. Nguyen and his team focused on five primary activities: (1) continuation of the technical research with field tests and transition to adoption; (2) community outreach; (3) establishment of a website and community data repository; (4) education, training, and workshops; and (5) policy advocacy. As they continued field testing and refinement of the SEAWEED device, the team continued to experience minor technical issues associated with long-term field deployment, as they had expected. That is, while the prototype works well in short-term testing and in a controlled environment, the device experienced minor issues in long-term deployment tests. Maintenance and design improvements were therefore the primary research and development activity this past year. The team now has two prototype designs of the SEAWEED that are optimized for two types of waves associated with different types of shores—shallow sloped beaches and deep sloped rocky shores. In seeking opportunities for pilot adoption and scale up of the SEAWEED, they were pleased to find interest and initial success with the tourism industry. The device has been adopted at one ocean resort as part of its green energy campaign. The Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology is also interested in further investigating the SEAWEED as part of its wave energy research track.

Building off the success of their outreach activities in the first year, the group expanded outreach activities and created more opportunities for student engagement in 2015. The SEAWEED project continues to serve as the flagship research activity for Tan Tao University outreach and recruitment, and the SEAWEED PR team regularly travels to local junior high and high schools to present their popular “Infoshare” program. The SEAWEED project also connects with other local and international NGOs in the region on hosting research seminars and getting team members involved in community projects. To promote access to information, the SEAWEED project team created the globalcitizenscientists.org website as a data collection portal and repository. They have subsequently broadened their effort on the database to serve the research community in Vietnam (vietdata.org). The Vietdata project is in collaboration with a network of Vietnamese scholars in the United States (led by UC Davis) to establish a common space for data sharing. This database has been seeded with SEAWEED-related data (e.g., hydrology and weather) and was presented to the Lower Mekong research community and U.S. government agencies in November 2015. The plan is to develop and grow the database to serve as the repository for the research community in the entire Lower Mekong region.
 

 

 
As for education and training, the SEAWEED program creates an opportunity for engineering and non-engineering students to participate in technical, outreach, and education activities. In addition, the team has created training materials in the form of classroom activities (games) that could supplement the regular teaching curriculum. They succeeded in getting the games adopted at four schools in their area.

The SEAWEED team has also been very active in engaging policy makers to support research projects that are relevant to the development of Vietnam and the Mekong region. At first they had limited success, but they began to attract national attention toward the end of the second year. Specifically, the SEAWEED PI accompanied U.S. Science Envoy Dr. Geraldine Richmond on her visit throughout Vietnam in 2015. The SEAWEED team also served as a local organizing partner for the November 2015 NSF international workshop exploring research collaborations between the United States and Vietnam. Most noticeably, the SEAWEED project PI participated in the Joint Committee Meeting (JCM) organized by the U.S. Department of State and the Government of Vietnam. The JCM was organized around the theme of science and technology collaborations, and Dr. Nguyen was chosen to pay a lead role in the STEM working group. Through this opportunity, the PI promoted PEER and the SEAWEED project and advocated for Vietnam to invest in research programs with international partnership similar to PEER. In particular, he is providing input to a new World Bank-funded program entitled Fostering Innovation through Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST), which is set up very similar to PEER.

Although this project has ended and the PI Dr. Nguyen is currently based in Virginia, the efforts facilitated with PEER support will be continuing. Dr. Nguyen collaborated with scientists in the United States and Mekong countries to apply for and win an NSF Research Coordination Network (RCN) grant. The RCN program focuses on enabling researchers from multiple disciplines to collaborate to address a grand challenge. For this RCN grant, led by Dr. Michael Ceballos, the researchers aim to coordinate U.S.-Mekong research collaborations to address issues related to Food, Energy, and Water. The grant is entitled “RCN UBE: MIRC Food, Energy, Water, and Ecosystems Resources.” Back in Vietnam, the PEER team’s primary goal for the next few years is to scale up the uses of the SEAWEED. The SEAWEED proof-of-concept was established through revisions and extensive field-testing, and they now have several reliable working prototypes. They aim to find sponsors to replicate these prototypes and deploy them in rural, remote, underdeveloped communities as intended. One promising industry they are targeting is large-scale industrial parks in Vietnam. Initial conversations with relevant representatives provide grounds for hoping that the team will receive support to scale up the SEAWEED. They are also looking to expand application of the SEAWEED internationally. Connections have been established with researchers in Myanmar, and with their support the team hopes to conduct feasibility testing of the SEAWEED on that country’s southern coast.
 
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