Nova Scotia

Could this 'no-brainer' concept be the key to harnessing the power of the Bay of Fundy tides?

Big Moon Power thinks its Kinetic Keel might be just the device to finally harness the power of the Bay of Fundy and tame its powerful tides.

Big Moon Power passes on turbines in favour of Kinetic Keel

Big Moon Power recently tested its Kinetic Keel (the black device on the left) in the Minas Basin. (Big Moon Power)

Lynn Blodgett's time on a beach in the Bahamas might have provided the key to harnessing the power of the Bay of Fundy.

Several years ago as the former CEO of Xerox Services was recovering from an illness, he watched the Caribbean tides coming in and out and had a big thought.

"I just became obsessed with the idea of why can't we figure a way to harness this energy."

Trying something different

Blodgett formed a new company, Big Moon Power, and set out to do just that in January 2015. But while other attempts to tame the highest tides in the world have used some form of turbine design — some of which have generated controversy — Big Moon uses something different.

The technology consists of two parts: a generator on land with a drum that holds a long rope, and an object in the water that looks like a deck barge, with a perpendicular piece of steel attached to the bottom called a Kinetic Keel.

Imagine a sailboat without a sail, mast or anything glamorous.

The two devices are connected by a high-strength marine rope made from a polymer that's seven times stronger than steel. The keel moves with the tidal current, and the rope on the drum extends as the barge moves from shore and retracts as it gets closer; either way, as the drum turns, power is generated.

Big Moon Power's Kinetic Keel is seen from the air during its tests this spring in the Minas Basin. (Big Moon Power)

"It's a very simple concept but it works very well," said Blodgett.

The approach isn't just conceptual. The company conducted tests this spring in the Minas Basin, and Blodgett said the equipment performed without problems and generated even more power than expected.

The potential for the technology is big, he said.

"We certainly have the ability to harness huge amounts [of energy]," he said. "This has the capability of harnessing in the gigawatts range of power."

'Fish ... can certainly maneuver around it'

While there would need to be proper study and consultation before the project moves forward, Blodgett also believes his technology wouldn't have an impact on marine life. The device in the water has no moving parts and travels at not much more than one knot.

"It's just kind of gradually creeping along, so if there are fish they certainly can maneuver around it," he said.

"We hope that people will view it [as] environmentally reasonable."

A completely different standpoint

One of the people to see the technology first hand is Michelle Adams, an engineer and assistant professor at Dalhousie University's School for Resource and Environmental Studies.

Big Moon asked Adams to offer feedback on what might be missing and possible challenges.

Adams said her first reaction was that it had "an elegant design." Engineers tend to get excited about building better mousetraps, she said, sometimes at the expense of missing other potential approaches.

"They looked at it from a completely different standpoint," she said.

"I looked at this and went, 'This is fabulous.' The term kind of a 'no-brainer' came to mind."

Difficult to find flaws

While there might be some spatial issues to address with the barge and questions of navigation, those are likely manageable, said Adams, she's struggled to find major flaws with the device.

"I've been trying to figure out why this won't work. I'm trying to pick the holes in it and so far I haven't been able to do that."

Adams also sees broader applications for the technology because it is scalable. She sees it as a possible energy solution for remote communities on rivers, for example.

Hopes to get provincial go-ahead

The goal right now, said Blodgett, is to get the go ahead from the province for a demonstration berth to conduct more trials. Meetings with Nova Scotia's Department of Energy and officials with Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy have been positive, he said.

"Obviously it has to be studied and proven, but we think it has great potential."

It's also cost-effective, in part because the company wanted to take advantage of existing supply chains, he said. The generator is the same as what's used for a wind turbine.

The barge was fabricated in Lunenburg and Blodgett said most of the rest of the device can also be made there, meaning that if the project takes off, there is the potential for job creation.