In this special Cleantech Innovation Series sponsored by Autodesk you’ll hear unique insights from a number of entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovative cleantech companies designing and building solutions for a more sustainable future.
Bombora shows the renewables sector that it’s okay to mix business and leisure
The majority of renewable energy companies focus solely on finding ways of producing energy from renewable sources. The Ryan brothers from rural Western Australia thought that a more diversified approach to renewable energy was needed. They wanted to create a system that provided more than just energy.
The initial inspiration for their concept came from watching waves breaking on the shore at the beach. Older brother Glen felt that there was a power in the wave that should be being harnessed. Glen and his younger brother Shawn, both experienced mechanical engineers, began testing prototypes in the corner of their father’s farm shed and after several years these prototypes evolved into Bombora Wave Power’s system.
The Ryans have always been environmentally aware and they wanted to produce low cost renewable energy that also gave back to the community. In the case of Bombora Wave Power, it places an artificial reef to the ocean, providing a home to marine life and creating the opportunity for people to take part in leisure activities on and around the Bombora Wave Power. The company is planning to be a powerful player in the renewable energy market, a market that Shawn says is projected to be worth in the order of $50 billion per annum between 2020 and 2050.
Maintaining our crucial need for energy
Shawn Ryan is well-travelled, having been to over 60 countries and having explored ancient sites in Egypt (Pyramids of Giza), Italy (Pompeii) and Peru (Incas). Shawn found common threads throughout his travels, “There are three real needs in society – food, water and shelter – the rest is material.” Shawn saw that these ancient cultures didn’t live too differently to how we live today. “The big difference is energy. Energy underlies everything we do today, so, along with the three basic needs, energy is now critical to the functioning of the modern world.” Shawn adds, “I think there will be a huge number of developments in the energy space in coming years.”
As the renewable energy sector grows, innovators are becoming more aware of how our actions impact the planet. The need for energy has meant that infrastructure has been built and fuels are being sourced and utilised to create this necessary power. As well as using renewable resources to create energy, designers are also becoming increasingly aware of sustainability in design. Shawn began working as an engineer in 2000 and says, “It felt like in those days it was all based on price and getting the job done”.
Bombora is very aware of sustainability in design and they are committed to creating products
that are ecologically sound in terms of their function, the materials selection and the longevity of components, and they use components that are recyclable wherever possible. Shawn feels there has been a shift in the thinking in design and engineering. “These days sustainability has certainly crept into the design methodology and it’s something we carefully consider at Bombora.”
Shawn Ryan describes Bombora as an air bubble anchored underwater and says it’s similar to a series of giant foot pumps. As a wave peak goes over the large submerged bubble, the air is exhaled out through a series of valves and past an air turbine which spins, generating electricity. The air stays within Bombora’s system and as the wave trough passes over it, air is inhaled back into the cell, allowing the cycle to be repeated.
The electricity to be produced by Bombora in a real – life application will be transmitted to shore through an electric cable and connected to the electrical grid.
According to Shawn, “Each unit may have the potential to supply renewable electricity for 500 homes or deliver 1GL of desalinated water each year, comparable to the equivalent greenhouse gas benefit of taking approximately 825 cars off the road.”
In addition to providing power, Bombora’s key differentiator is that it provides a marine feature that will benefit the environment and create opportunities for leisure activities. Shawn says, “We are going to be creating an artificial reef which will attract fish so it will be great for recreational diving and snorkelling.” Shawn adds, “It may be able to be surfed under certain conditions if we design it for a specific tide level and swell height at a particular location. It may also be used as a shoreline protection device, removing energy before it impacts the coastline.” The team at Bombora Wave Power are passionate about giving more back to communities, Shawn says, “Our corporate vision is to be a world leading membrane wave energy absorber technology and there are many more diversified applications to be explored.”
The Ryan brothers felt that having an open collaboration policy was the best way to take the design forward. Shawn says, “To validate ideas we like to crowd source engineering. There are a lot of bright people out there and everyone has a different set of eyes and experience.” When the Ryan’s came up with the idea of using air as a medium in Bombora, they approached Dr Andrew King, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Curtin University, to validate their thoughts. Shawn says, “When it comes to research, the academics are the best in that field. What we’re about is trying to take the fundamental research, shepherd it along then take that research and build a business out of it, and then take that business and turn it into an industry.”
After reaching out to Dr King, the Ryan brothers felt more able to let other people in on their idea and Shawn offers this advice, “You do have to let go of your baby to let it breath and as soon as you start testing it with other people you work out how it’s meant to be.”
The Ryan’s performed tests in specialised tanks at The Australian Maritime College and Bombora also ran several student programs with the college. The Ryans have worked with veterans in the industry including Dr Matt Foley and Tom Thorpe who Shawn describes as, “The gurus of wave energy.” The brothers also work regularly with the next crop of academics (current PhD candidates) through it’s association with an Australian Research Council Linkage Project which is driving continued research through tank testing and academic exploration and analysis and the iPREP WA program.
Creating waves in the industry
There industry has been buzzing with excitement since the launch of Bombora Wave Power. Shawn says, “A lot of people are getting excited about the way we are going about it.” Bombora Wave Power was publicly unveiled in September 2012 at the All Energy Conference in Melbourne to a great reception.
Two weeks after the launch, the Ryans were in Ireland at the International Conference of Ocean Energy. They were, as Shawn says, “Blown away,” by what they saw on stage at the conference. They didn’t yet know any people at the conference and Shawn says, “They were already doing presentations on our system.” Bombora Wave Power has since had much acclaim, winning the GE Ecomagination Challenge Award AUS/ NZ, the WA Innovator of the Year Award _ Emerging Category, the WA Innovator of the Year Woodside Oil and Gas Encouragement Award and receiving a finalist placing in the Australian Cleantech Competition.
Bombora Wave Power is currently concentrating on a number of market opportunities and commercialisation pathways. The Ryan brothers are looking to keep growing the business, Shawn says, “We’ve recently bought on Sam Leighton as our CEO and another engineer. We’re continuing with lab research and driving forward the iterative design process to get the business to a commercial demonstration prototype.” Bombora is planning to have a working small scaled model installed at its permitted and licensed field trial site in 2015 and is looking to accelerate its development towards achieving its corporate vision.
Bombora Wave Power is part of the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program. The program supports clean technology innovators who are developing innovative solutions to solve the world’s environmental challenges. According to Shawn Ryan, “With Autodesk software, you can create a really good digital prototype and then make a real prototype from it, which saves you a lot of time, money and effort”. As part of the program, eligible companies receive world-class software to design, visualise, and simulate their ideas and accelerate their time to market through 3D Digital Prototyping. To apply for or learn more, visit www.autodesk.com.au/cleantech