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Next-generation tidal energy, made in Northern France

14 Dec 2015 | A region on the move

In Northern France, EEL Energy is developing a tidal energy converter with an undulating membrane inspired by marine life. The French startup’s internationally patented power generation technology holds the promise of ultra-efficient energy.

EEL Energy is developing a tidal energy converter in Northern France

Revolutionary tidal energy technology

“Seventy-one percent of the surface of our planet is covered with water that never stops moving,” says EEL Energy Finance Director Franck Sylvan. “If in the future we could capture the power generated by this movement, Earth would never need another energy source.”

This is the innovative principle behind EEL Energy, a new company based in Northern France. For the past three years, the French startup has been working to develop a next-generation tidal energy converter with an undulating membrane that mimics the movements of fish.

Testing in the Boulogne-sur-Mer flume tank operated by Ifremer, the French public institute for marine research, has shown that the EEL tidal converter can generate 1MW of electricity from a current of just 1-2.5 meters per second. By comparison, conventional tidal turbines—which have a diameter of 15-18 meters and alter current patterns—cannot operate without a minimum current of 2.5 meters per second.

Eliminating CO2 emissions and noise and visual pollution

EEL Energy’s breakthrough technology offers a range of advantages. First, the tidal converter orients automatically to the direction of the current, converting 100% of its energy. Franck Sylvain explains: “With its undulating membrane, our tidal converter operates in currents running at 1-3 meters per second, so it can be positioned in 1,000 times as many locations as turbines.” For example, tidal energy farms with 1,000 EEL converters could generate enough electricity to power nearly 3 million homes—with no visual or noise pollution, no CO2 emissions, and no harm to wildlife. And because the EEL converter can be installed near the shore, it should limit electricity transport and connection costs.

Testing in actual conditions

Experiments on EEL Energy’s prototype converter have begun, and so far they have been successful. Beginning in 2016, the converter will be tested in actual operating conditions in the waters off Boulogne-sur-Mer, and in 2017 it will be deployed off the Scottish coast. “The technology has enormous potential. This could get really big. Eventually we plan to send our machines all over the world and colonize the ocean floor!” say Franck Sylvain and EEL Energy CEO Jean-Baptiste Devret enthusiastically.

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