As a 2013 graduate of Brunel University, Samuel Etherington could not have anticipated the success of his final year project. Since then he has featured in The Times, Telegraph, on the BBC and appeared in GQ magazine as one of the ‘Men of the Next 25 Years’. Why? Sam’s project on renewable power has proved so promising that is has won him numerous national awards, and an induction into the UK Engineering Hall of fame. He is the youngest ever entry and finds himself sitting amongst esteemed company, such as jet engine inventor Frank Whittle and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the eponym of our university.
Having grown up in the Lake District village of Cartmel, Etherington spent considerable portions of time kite-surfing off the coast. When speaking in one of his high profile interviews, he listed a love for the environment and the wish to protect natural landscapes from degradation from fossil fuel energy sources among his passions.
The award winning design is now being developed by his company, Aqua Power Technologies Limited. It harvests energy from waves in the ocean regardless of which direction the waves are travelling. This innovation is essentially a semi-submersible that uses hydraulics to harness energy from the cresting and falling of waves; freedom of direction gives it a distinct advantage over existing technologies. In a statement for Made in Brunel, Sam said “Oceans create the harshest environments for designs to work in. It is best to work with the forces in the oceans than to repel them. The design therefore utilises a multi-axis structure capable of replicating any three-dimensional shape a wave may make”.
Wave power has huge potential to create clean energy around for the UK and this invention could well be a key part of the nation’s energy supply in the future. There are 11,800km of available UK coastline and only 1% is currently exploited for energy generation. This zero emission technology can provide on average 55kWh of power per meter of coastline; the potential is huge.
In 2014, the project was awarded a grant by Innovus (supported by Manchester University, Britain’s Energy Coast and the National Nuclear Laboratory) to continue development. The ultimate aim is to commercialise the invention so that it can begin to harvest energy around Britain’s coastline. Interestingly, the dimensions of the elements which make up the generator will change depending upon where the power generator is deployed. By studying wave statistics, regular wave patterns can be established and the design modified for maximum energy generation.
As the Director of Aqua Power Technologies, Sam has taken the role of Project Manager and continues working to move the project towards commercialisation. Success could mean the improvement of renewable energy production in the UK, which is currently far behind the performance of neighbouring counties.