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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
 
Project Facebook page
 

 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
In the first quarter of 2015, the SEAWEED project team focused on four primary activities: (1) continued field testing of the SEAWEED device; (2) further expansion of their highly successful public outreach and education program; (3) construction of an online repository to port over Facebook page content and online material; and (4) involvement in partnerships with other programs to expand the SEAWEED project and ensure its sustainability beyond the PEER funding period. On the technical side, the team fixed various glitches and eventually identified several key vulnerabilities and worked on correcting them. For example, weld joints on the outer shell often leak water regardless of how many times the weld is repaired; however, simple reinforcement of the inner surface with a tar composite seems to take care of the issue permanently. Because this phase of the project involves long-term field testing of the device, there are no major technical developments taking place. The group is instead focused more on building a SEAWEED virtual organization. On the outreach and education side, in parallel with field testing activities the researchers maintain regular contacts with their current network of high schools and have expanded to two new schools—the Thoai Ngoc Hau High School for the Gifted in Long Xuyen City and the Thu Khoa Nghia High School for the Gifted in Chau Doc District. These high schools are in remote provinces far from Tan Tao University (about a 6-hour drive). Because they are also located near the border with Cambodia, they have many ethnic Khmer students. The leaderships of the schools reached out to the project and invited the SEAWEED team to visit, so four students and one staff member made highly successful visits over a three-day period.

 

 
SEAWEED continues to be the flagship project for Tan Tao University and is featured in the university's student recruiting literature for the 2015-2016 recruitment campaign. In addition, the university showcased the SEAWEED project to the Ministry of Science and Technology on the occasion of the Ministry delegation’s visit, which is featured in an article on TTU's website. To date, the SEAWEED outreach and education team has also built a vibrant and powerful online community on the social media website Facebook. Now that the project has taken permanent root at TTU and is making a strong impact in the region, the PI is developing a new online community page and content repository. The page has been registered (www.globalcitizenscientists.org) and is still under construction, but the goal is to migrate over all content of the SEAWEED project from its Facebook page. The new website will provide better flexibility for the team to store and manage content, especially in preserving project artifacts. Meanwhile, the SEAWEED project team continues to engage in partnerships with other major environmental engineering projects in the region to strengthen ties. For example, project staff members continue to volunteer with the Vietnam Forests and Deltas (VFD) program funded by USAID and implemented by Winrock International. The PI also participated as a regional expert in the State Department U.S. Science Envoy program. The U.S. Science Envoy to the Lower Mekong Region, Dr. Geraldine Richmond, visited Vietnam in January 2015 and the PI, Dr. Tho Nguyen, accompanied her delegation and provided local expertise. During her visit, Dr. Richmond also heard a presentation on SEAWEED.

During the spring and summer of 2015, in addition to their ongoing field testing and outreach activities, Dr. Nguyen and his team will continue promoting SEAWEED for state-sponsored adoption. Binh Thuan Province, one of the host provinces for project field tests, is also among the most progressive provinces in Vietnam when it comes to adopting renewable energy solutions. The PEER team has begun a dialogue to encourage the provincial government to adopt SEAWEED for some of its remote communities. If successful, this will be a significant step for SEAWEED to be adopted and scaled. Furthermore, the SEAWEED PI is also engaged in discussions with the U.S. Geological Survey’s DRAGON-Mekong Institute at Can Tho University. DRAGON (Delta Research and Global Observation Network) is an effort by the USGS to establish delta research institutes around the world, with the first DRAGON institute being at Can Tho University. The SEAWEED partnership with DRAGON has been well received by the institute’s leadership, and information on this activity will be reported at a U.S.-Vietnam Joint Committee Meeting to be held in late 2015.
 
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