Generator Design and Operation: Wave Energy Converter Prototype Development for Simulation Validation

Project Lead: James VanZwieten, Ph.D.
Affiliated Home Campus: Boca Raton
Affiliated Department: Ocean and Mechanical Engineering
REU Scholar: Haydn Rhodes & James Laumeyer
REU Scholar Home Institution: University of Florida & Florida Atlantic University


Waves contain an enormous amount of power and there are many different designs for capturing wave energy. Past work has been done at FAU on examining the power performance of a wave energy converter (WEC) using two types of computer simulations. The benefit of developing accurate computer simulators is that a wide variety of parameters can be adjusted to improve the design without having to physically test every design.

However, to validate the accuracy of the computer simulations a physical system was needed for in-water testing. The numerically simulated WEC was designed to float on the surface of the water and had three paddle fins attached to a central body. As the waves rocked the fins up and down, power would be transferred to shafts to generate electricity. However, the simulations did not account for energy loss in converting mechanical power to electrical power. Thus, it would be necessary to measure both the torque and angular speed of the shaft on the physical model. A temperature compensating strain gauge circuit was developed to measure the torque on the shaft as well as code that could interpret signals from the motor to calculate the angular speed.

Although the general dimensions were theorized in the simulations, the entire WEC still needed to be designed on a functional level. Proper materials and feasible fabrication processes had to be considered. After the entire WEC was modeled in SolidWorks and the materials were acquired, over one hundred parts were machined. Some of the equipment used to make these parts included a CNC waterjet, band saw, CNC mill, lathe, 3D printer, and a metal bending machine along with many other tools. After rivets and other fasteners were included, the WEC assembly required well over 600 pieces. Although there was not enough time to test and gather data from the WEC, the entire design was finalized, code was developed, and nearly the entire fabrication process was completed.

Click here to watch the student presentation.