New Bedford could be a global hub for tidal energy, a local company believes. Here's why.

NEW BEDFORD — While the offshore wind industry has been making local headlines for years, there's another area of renewable energy that's begun quietly making waves in Greater New Bedford.

In fact, waves are just what the proponents of tidal wave energy look to harness.

One of the companies doing this work is Littoral Power Systems (LPS), Inc. based in New Bedford. Along with its sister company LPS Hydro Solutions, LPS is currently developing a number of technologies aimed at expanding the effectiveness and feasibility of implementing tidal energy systems.

"We're currently in the thick of designing a turbine that we hope to put into a tidal inlet up in Alaska by this coming summer," said Eben Franks, director of prototyping and instrumentation for LPS and LPS Hydro Solutions. That installation will serve as an initial test of the equipment's performance, Franks said.

Once the turbine design is finalized and approved for wider use, Franks says LPS will be working with shipyards and marine contractors to build and deploy more of them.

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The aim of the project, which Franks notes is being funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is rather fitting for a company based in New Bedford, once dubbed "the city that lit the world."

This time around, the source of that light won't be whale blubber, but will still involve sea voyaging.

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"In the bigger picture, this is to capture the abundant energy splashing all over these tidal inlets all over world, and the idea is to bring remote power to communities that currently burn diesel fuel or don't have reliable electrical power otherwise," Franks said. "So there's a lot of interest in seeing this all go forward."

As explained by Franks, tidal wave energy production involves harnessing the movement of water via technologies that convert that energy into electricity; not unlike how offshore wind technologies utilize the force of moving winds to do the same.

Test run may reveal more than tech's performance

In the case of the Alaskan test site, Franks says not only will the Kootznahoo Inlet in Angoon, Alaska provide an ideal physical setting to test the turbine, but if things progress as planned, the test may be demonstrative of the economic turnaround effects that implementing these systems can have on a small, remote community like Angoon.

"It's a village of about 700 people and they are getting crushed having to pay for diesel generators," Franks said, classifying the place as a "small fishing community" where it can be difficult and costly to access shipments of fuel and other goods.

"So a big part of the objective there is to train some folks to help operate and maintain this tidal turbine, and eventually we hope to have several in there," Franks said, noting that there could ultimately be as many as 10 system installations that support Angoon.

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Initially, Franks says maintaining the first turbine will entail "good, steady, part-time work" for some locals, and additional installations would create needs for full-time workers.

New Bedford a good home for LPS, tidal energy industry, Franks says

Not long after starting up in 2015, Franks says LPS moved its homebase from New Jersey to New Bedford, finding the SouthCoast region rich in the type of specialized resources the company needs, but are often hard to find.

This comes in handy in cases like last summer, Franks says, when LPS was pressed for time in developing a turbine to be tested in the Cape Cod Canal, and needed considerable metal work done on short notice.

Eben Franks, Director of Prototyping and Instrumentation, and Sylas Horowitz, Project Manager, disassemble one of the arms of the wave energy conversion device they are working on at the Littoral Power Systems assembly space on Purchase Street in New Bedford.
Eben Franks, Director of Prototyping and Instrumentation, and Sylas Horowitz, Project Manager, disassemble one of the arms of the wave energy conversion device they are working on at the Littoral Power Systems assembly space on Purchase Street in New Bedford.

"We had everybody we knew asking around about a machine shop that can start work this afternoon ... and get back to us two to three days later," Franks said, noting the team was ultimately successful in their search. Since relocating to New Bedford, Franks says LPS has managed to cultivate a local network for itself that can help with anything from marine-specialized welding and machining, to supplying barges and marine equipment retrieval.

"All those things make it incredibly valuable to set up and do this type of work in New Bedford," he said. "There's so much capacity for it here."

Science-minded SouthCoast

Franks says the region is also ideal for its "intellectual capacity" on the scientific/tech development side of tidal energy. That's why he says LPS is now making strides to connect with local higher education institutions and create awareness of the industry within academia.

"We're working closely with Bristol Community College," Franks said, noting LPS hopes to gain a student intern from there sometime in January. "We feel a very strong responsibility to inspire the next several generations of engineers, technicians and contract folks to pursue renewable energy."

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Meanwhile, not far from LPS' Dover Street offices, the company is a current tenant at New Bedford Research and Robotics on Purchase Street, where much of the product development and prototyping takes place. NBRR founder Mark Parsons says LPS has been "an ideal member" of the lab space's mutually beneficial "ecosystem."

"For instance, we are presently helping design and build — through robotic 3D printing — waterflow louvers made from recycled plastics," Parsons said. "These will be deployed by LPS as more effective fish ladders to support healthy ecosystems around hydro energy projects."

Parsons said there are also talks on LPS becoming involved with NBRR's "STEA³M™" programming, which extends educational experiences to local students; and that LPS Project Manager Sylas Horowitz has been a speaker at NBRR's "STEM fireside" talks meant to highlight STEM work in a personalized way.

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In the "long-term view," Franks says LPS hopes its educational collaborations will come to include UMass Dartmouth and others.

This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: Could SouthCoast lead the world in tidal energy?