Updated: Feb 11, 2022
By Andy Kapperman
I strode into the computer lab with my research partner Brianna Rodriguez, grabbed an office chair, and rolled it up to a desk. We had already clipped a webcam to the top of one of our computer monitors, so I just started logging into all of my accounts. It was finally time to give a conference presentation that the two of us had been preparing for quite a while. Truth be told, we were ready... We had done our research and practiced what we were going to say. Once I had finished logging in, I turned to Brianna and said, “You ready?” She turned to me with a glint in her eye and said “Nope. You?” I kind of cocked my head, returned her gaze, and said “Uh-uh. Not in the slightest.” By that point though, we had already accepted our fate. Ready or not, we had a presentation to give. Moments later we turned toward the camera and joined the conference.
To provide some more context on what I’m talking about, let me first introduce myself. My name is Andy Kapperman, and I am a senior Mechanical Engineering student at the University of North Florida (UNF). The conference that I am talking about is the 26th International Interdisciplinary Conference on the Environment (IICE), an international, academic conference that was organized by the Interdisciplinary Environmental Association (IEA) this past October. Brianna and I presented our research on Wave Energy Converters. As undergraduate students, the IICE was our first formal presentation at an academic conference that wasn’t put on by our university or a part of a competition that we were participating in; We were nervous to say the least.
In the weeks and months leading up to the conference, we had conducted extensive research on our topic, submitted an abstract, prepared a presentation, practiced the presentation, and recorded many times over. By the day of our presentation, we knew the content backwards and forwards. All that remained was for us to just be present for the actual discussion and Q&A after.
Like I mentioned, we were physically prepared and present. Although mentally, it was chaos for me. All I could think about was not being able to answer a question, forgetting to unmute my microphone, or what might happen if our internet connection went out as soon as our presentation began. My what-could-possibly-go-wrong checklist was very long and always at the forefront of my mind. Miraculously, nothing bad happened. At one point there was confusion about the time zones, and we joined the conference super early, but it all worked out. When it was all said and done, we were able to give what I felt like was a pretty solid presentation. We were able to give reasonable answers to questions, and I would actually venture to say that the whole experience was kind of fun - nerve-racking but rewarding.
The title of our presentation was Wave Energy Converter Development: An Overview of Environmental Considerations. WECs are devices that when placed in a body of water that generates waves, are able to convert the cyclic motion of the water into electricity. Some of the different types of WECs include wave terminators, wave attenuators, and point absorbers. While the technology has existed for a while, there have been limited success stories when it comes to the long-term implementation of WECs. Ocean energy, however, has become a focus recently as governments are looking for sustainable ways to generate electricity that don’t involve fossil fuels.
Figure 1: The Marine Energy Collegiate Competition that the University of North Florida (UNF) is competing in as they develop a point absorber Wave Energy Converter.
Throughout our research, thinking about how our work affects the environment is a primary concern. Preserving the environment is, of course, the main reason we want to develop new renewable energy solutions in the first place. So, in addition to designing something that works, we are also striving to design a device that won’t harm the environment and will also last in the ocean – an environment notorious for destroying pretty much anything humans put into it. That means planning for rust (or avoiding it altogether), preventing things from growing on the device’s surface in such a way that hinders its operation, making sure that the device won’t cause any harm to creatures that live in the water, and so many other considerations. To think that your team has thought of all the possible side effects and consequences that your design might have on the environment is a clear sign that you need to think harder. Some of our earliest prototypes involved pool noodles and duct tape. They weren’t very pretty, but they worked and proved that our idea was possible. Next comes scaling things up and taking data. We are still, and will continue, learning about the design considerations of WECs.
Figure 2: Initial Wave Energy Converter prototypes produced by the UNF team competing in the MECC. The prototypes were affectionately named Jimmy, Timmy, and Kimmy.
I will be the first to admit that my team is not there yet. We don’t have a perfect design. Our current iteration is a way away from a fully functioning full-scale design, and we don’t have all of the answers when it comes to protecting the environment from our device (or the other way around). However, we are getting there. We are now exploring potential solutions and the IICE helped provide us with a platform to share some of our findings. We not only talked about the different types of WECs and our design so far, but we also focused heavily on the environmental considerations that we have been taking into account when it comes to designing for the environment. We scoured the internet for information and explored the depths of the UNF library to find good resources that talked about WECs and the challenges they face out in the wild. Our entire team is committed to designing for the environment. By presenting at the conference, we also go to share that commitment with other researchers.
Thinking back to before the conference, I can remember several instances when I thought about not presenting the research. Committing to a formal presentation at an academic conference means a lot of research, practice, and generally, a lot of work. But something kept telling me it was the right thing to do. My team had something to say, and we needed to say it. In giving the presentation, we were not only given the opportunity to share our progress, but we were also put into a position to defend our research. Being prepared for a defense meant reflecting on what we had already accomplished and what we planned on accomplishing in the future. It meant being sure that there is truth in our research.
My team’s mission and the mission of the MECC is to produce a feasible marine energy solution that is capable of generating environmentally sustainable electricity. In my mind, that is a mission worth the commitment. We are not just talking about what could be a solution. We are actually working to develop sustainable solutions to current and future problems that affect us all. If done right, using the ocean to generate electricity could really change the world for the better. On behalf of the UNF team, I would like to thank the IEA for giving us the opportunity to present at the IICE. The conference allowed us to gain practice in presenting our findings and also provided us with a platform to share our research. We may just be a bunch of college students, but I am proud to say that we truly are making some waves in the world.
Wave Energy Converter Development: An Overview of Environmental Considerations
Student Authors: Raymond “Andy” Kapperman (University of North Florida), Brianna Rodriguez
Faculty Authors: Dr. Cigdem Akan (University of North Florida)