This work examines powering marine based sensors (MBSs) by harvesting energy from their local environment. MBSs intrinsically operate in remote locations, traditionally requiring expensive maintenance expeditions for battery replacement and data download. Nowadays, modern wireless communication allows real-time data access, but adds a significant energy drain, necessitating frequent battery replacement. Harvesting renewable energy to recharge the MBSs battery, introduces the possibility of autonomous MBS operation, reducing maintenance costs and increasing their applicability. The thesis seeks to answer if an unobtrusive energy harvesting device can be incorporated into the MBS deployment to generate 1 Watt of average power.
Two candidate renewable energy resources are identified for investigation, ocean waves and the thermal gradient across the air/water interface. Wave energy conversion has drawn considerable research in recent years, due to the large consistent energy flux of ocean waves compared to other conventional energy sources such as solar or wind, but focusing on large scale systems permanently deployed at sites targeted for their favourable wave climates. Although a small amount of research exists on using wave energy for distributed power generation, the device sizes and power outputs of these systems are still one to two orders of magnitude larger than that targeted in this thesis. The present work aims for an unobtrusive device that is easily deployable/retrievable with a mass less than 50kg and which can function at any deployment location regardless of the local wave climate. Additionally, this research differs from previous work, by also seeking to minimise the wave induced pitch motion of the MBS buoy, which negatively affects the data transmission of the MBS due to tilting and misalignment of the RF antenna. Thermal energy harvesting has previously been investigated for terrestrial based sensors, utilising the temperature difference between the soil and ambient air. In this thesis, the temperature difference between the water and ambient air is utilised, to present the first investigation of this thermal energy harvesting concept in the marine environment.
A prototype wave energy converter (WEC) was proposed, consisting of a heaving cylindrical buoy with an internal permanent magnet linear generator. A mathematical model of the prototype WEC is derived by coupling a hydrodynamic model for the motion of the buoy with a vibration energy harvester model for the generator. The wave energy resource is assessed, using established mathematical descriptions of ocean wave spectra and by analysing measured wave data from the coast of Queensland, resulting in characteristic wave spectra that are input to the mathematical model of the WEC. The parameters of the WEC system are optimised, to maximise the power output while minimising the pitch motion. A prototype thermal energy harvesting device is proposed, consisting of a thermoelectric device sandwiched between airside and waterside heat exchangers. A mathematical model is derived to assess the power output of the thermal energy harvester using different environmental datasets as input. A physical prototype is built and a number of experiments performed to assess its performance.
The results indicate that the prototype WEC should target the high frequency tail of ocean wave spectra, diverging from traditional philosophy of larger scale WECs which target the peak frequency of the input wave spectrum. The analysis showed that the prototype WEC was unable to provide the required power output whilst remaining below 100kg and obeying a 40 degrees pitch angle constraint to ensure robust data transmission. However, a proposed modification to the WECs cylindrical geometry, to improve its hydrodynamic coupling to the input waves, was shown to enable the WEC to provide the required 1W output power whilst obeying the pitch constraints and having a mass below 50kg. The thermal energy harvester results reveal that the thermal gradient across the air/water interface alone is not a suitable energy resource, requiring a device with a cross-sectional area in excess of 100m² to power a MBS. However, including a solar thermal energy collector to increase the airside temperature, greatly improves the performance and enables a thermal energy harvester with a cross-sectional area on the order of 1m² to provide 1W of output power.
The findings in this thesis suggest that a well hydrodynamically designed buoy can provide two major benefits for a MBS deployment: enabling efficient wave energy absorption by the MBS buoy, and minimising the wave induced pitch motion which negatively affects the data transmission.