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Algae energy! Ex telecoms engineer creating energy waves

With the cost of crude oil shooting above US$90 per barrel and the likelihood of it holding firm well into the middle of June, the implications for Jamaica, with a high dependency on fossil fuel, are dire.

Over the years, the cost of energy has been burdensome to the local manufacturing sector, a situation due in large measure to “the misguided energy policies of successive administrations”, according to telecom-munications engineer Jackie Stuart.

The former vice-president of Cable and Wireless, who for many years was responsible for engineering and operations, says too much money, time, and energy have been wasted in the wrong areas.

Now CEO of Renewable Energy Solutions, a company which provides energy-efficient systems and installs photovoltaic panels, among other services, the retiree recently shared with The Sunday Gleaner some of his solutions.

Stuart dismissed the option of wind farms being a practical energy source for Jamaica given the inconsistency in the level of the key raw material. He highlighted the practicality of using sea waves, solar energy, and biofuel generated from one of the fastest-growing plant organisms: algae.

With a consistent wind flow required, the sporadic nature of Jamaica’s wind patterns is impractical for commercial purposes. While there is an endless supply of sunlight, the initial high start-up cost of converting it to electricity via solar panels, the most popular method, as against thermal electricity and other less-explored avenues, has been prohibitive.

use of waves

Stuart has developed what he calls a linear generator based on the Faraday principle, named after the 18th-century physicist Michael Faraday, who is best known for his discoveries of electro-magnetic induction and the laws of electrolysis, his biggest breakthrough being the invention of the electric motor.

“Jamaica is surrounded by water and the wave motion is there 24 hours a day. Most of the principal cities in Jamaica are near to the sea. My invention is basically using the Faraday principle of a magnetic field on a coil. A coil moving in a magnetic field generates power and all generators are based on that, but most generators developed around the world have a rotary motion,” Stuart explained.

What he has done with the linear version of the generator is to replicate that operation using the up-and-down motion of waves, as against the circular motion of traditional generators, to create energy. So successful is the device that it can generate power from any amplitude of wave. And while the Jamaican has worked with about a metre range, he says this can be brought to a centimetre and still be practical.

“The arm goes up and down and I am moving magnets in between coils and it’s generating power outside. I have an electronic piece outside that can add the power, because if you connect them in certain series and parallel arrangements you can generate power of any amount you want. So the output can be anything you want,” the veteran engineer pointed out.

fine-tuning skills

Explaining that his background has always been one of innovation and invention, in his last year at Cable and Wireless, Stuart took a sabbatical to fine-tune his skills in renewable energy at Canada’s McGill University.

“With respect to energy in Jamaica, I don’t want to criticise anybody. I just want to present the opportunities in front of us and what we can do, basically,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

“Where I have reached with it is that I need some funding in order to take it to the commercial level because the coastal regions of Jamaica, or anywhere that you have water splashing, is very corrosive, so I couldn’t put the generator in the water. It can be done, but is very costly to get the waterproofing around the electronics.

“What I am going to do is put an interface between where I can put the generator on land and the motion, and all I will do there is to use compressed air. So my arm, moving up and down, will compress air into a cylinder and I will release the air in accordance with what I want – whatever pace I want. It’s micro-system, it’s not a monstrous thing. An arm that extends out maybe 10-15 feet, a small unit like that, so we can generate maybe two to three kilowatts, but you can have multiples of these along a shoreline and generate exactly what you want. It can be produced by local people – very cost-effective for that technology.”

Having done an extensive system of his invention, Stuart is now seeking help to move it from a backyard set-up to a viable commercial concern. The first person to develop a satellite dish in Jamaica in the early 1980s, this time around he wants others to also benefit from his expertise.

“Whatever I do now has to be cost-effective and it has to be able to be manufactured by the ordinary person, with a proper design. That’s where I want to go. It is not a big-money thing. If you are on a boat fishing, you can generate power from there to charge your batteries, to do whatever you want.”

Source: Jamaica Gleaner

Category/ies:Jamaica News.
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