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Queen Mary academic shortlisted for Shell Springboard Award

A company set up by a Queen Mary academic has been shortlisted for a Shell Springboard award, for its work on developing equipment to harness and exploit tidal energy.

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The proposed tidal power installation
The proposed tidal power installation

Shell Springboard is a Shell Social Investment Programme which aims to support commercially viable and innovative business ideas which reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

TidalFlow Power Ltd was set up by Chris Lawn, Professor of Thermo-fluids Engineering at Queen Mary, together with partners from the renewable energy and financial industries. The company is dedicated to developing equipment for the generation of electricity from tidal streams, and is based on research carried out at Queen Mary.

Professor Lawn explains: “Our device is a vertical-axis machine that has curved ‘blades’ wrapped around the surface of a cylinder. The blades are hinged on one edge and open against stops when the flow forces them to do so. They automatically close again when the cylinder has rotated so that they are on the other side. There is thus a net rotational force from the stream and this drives a generator to provide power. The concept has been proved in a laboratory flume and computations have been shown to reproduce the performance, thus giving confidence in the scaling up to practical sizes.”

The technology behind TidalFlow Power has many advantages. It requires no active control of underwater surfaces, it works independently of tidal direction, it can be easily hoisted above water level for maintenance, and it can easily be reconfigured for different sites.

“It has been independently estimated that more than 18 TWh in the year can be generated from fast-running tidal streams around the UK - that’s enough to supply 5 per cent of the UK consumption, and many think it could be a considerable under-estimate,” adds Professor Lawn.

TidalFlow Power was one of 24 finalists shortlisted from more than 130 entries to the Shell Springboard competition. Though not selected for funding, the judges were impressed by the simplicity of the idea.

The company are now looking for a consortium of manufacturers, operators and investors to help bridge the gap between laboratory research and demonstration at an engineering scale, and to support their plan to demonstrate the technology in an estuary with a fast-flowing tidal stream.

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