Polymer materials have the potential to provide a significant reduction in the Levelised Cost Of Energy (LCOE) of wave energy. In a similar manner to how high performance composite materials revolutionised the aircraft industry by replacing steel structures, high performance polymers can replace steel structures in wave energy, enhancing Affordability, Survivability, Availability and Performance. This engineering design study will look at the possibility of using high performance thermoplastic elastomers (Hytrel in particular), as the outer shell of wave energy devices, using complex 3D surface features to enhance performance.
Covering the entire external structure of a Wave Energy Device, the complex surface features enable the polymer to bend and flex in defined ways to manage the applied loads. Polymer surfaces which are rigid in normal operating conditions can be designed to become flexible in harsh sea conditions, reducing the area of the surface being battered by the waves, and changing the drag coefficient, significantly reducing the loads the device experiences. Polymer surfaces can transfer the applied loads across the surface to designated attachment points for the load bearing structure beneath, reducing the volume of high strength material required. Polymer surfaces can also manage the loads at attachment points, absorbing shocks, stretching and bending to reduce the peak loads applied to the structure from mooring points and articulated joints.
The study will undertake a detailed assessment of the thermoplastic elastomer material properties, the design features required to deliver the load management performance, the large scale manufacturability, polymer hybrid solutions (polymer-steel, polymer-composite), and the achievable LCOE. It will assess the results of the study with wave energy developers, and then recommend whether the polymer materials are ready to deliver the promised benefits. The material would be applicable to all WEC device types, to any ocean environment (from Artic to tropical), and at any scale.