underwater graphic
Team Halona’s design for a wave-powered autonomous underwater vehicle charging station.

An exceptionally innovative wave-powered autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) charging station capable of providing continuous power to resident AUVs for monitoring and predicting hurricanes has won national recognition. A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa team was selected as one of seven winners in the joint U.S. Department of Energy and NOAA Ocean Observing Prize: Design Contest.

Using the energy of the ocean to provide clean reliable renewable power vastly increases the length of time ocean observing platforms can operate at sea, improving our ability to forecast hurricane intensity and protect at-risk coastal communities.

Team Hālona is led by PhD students Nicholas Ulm of the Department of Ocean and Resources Engineering in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), and Jonathan Wallen of the College of Engineering (COE).

The Ocean Observing Prize began with the DISCOVER Competition, where the UH team won an award in July 2020, along with 10 other teams. Team Hālona’s design integrates a wave energy converter (WEC) with docking and charging capabilities to host an AUV.

The WEC design is based on wave action entering a chamber and forcing air through a turbine to generate electricity. The AUV is equipped with sensing equipment to measure key ocean parameters and upload its data after docking at the base of the WEC. Sensing devices include an acoustic Doppler current profiler, using the frequency of sound waves to measure ocean current velocities, and a conductivity, temperature and depth sensor, collecting data that is critical to forecasting intensity changes ahead of tropical storm systems.

The most recent win qualifies Team Hālona to advance to the next stage of the competition, the Build Contest, to construct a working prototype. In early 2022, the winning teams will go on to test their device in realistic ocean conditions at the U.S. Navy’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin, a world-class test facility in Bethesda, Maryland. In the final stage of the competition, up to three teams will compete in the SPLASH Contest, to refine and test their prototypes at sea, to evaluate endurance and performance.

Substantial contributions to the team’s success came from PhD student Allison Chua of Dalhousie University in Halifax, who brings extensive AUV expertise, and COE masters student Maddyson Jeske with important contributions to the AUV docking design. Faculty advisors for the team are Pat Cross (Program Manager at the Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) for marine energy, including support to the Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site), Kumar Rajagopalan (WEC hydrodynamics), Kevin Davies (power management) from HNEI and Zhuoyuan Song (AUV docking) from COE.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

For more information, see SOEST’s website.

–By Kathy McKenzie