Posted: December 01, 2012
Tech startup: Atargis Energy Corp.Eric Peterson
INITIAL LIGHT BULB As an aeronautical research scientist at the Air Force Academy since 2000, Dr. Stefan Siegel moonlighted working on an underwater hydrofoil that could capture energy from the ocean’s currents better than existing technologies could.
In 2008, Siegel was working in the field of feedback flow control, studying how to control the airflow around an aircraft wing and keep the plane in the air. After reading a Popular Science article on wave energy, he thought such a device might just be the "killer application for feedback flow control," he says.
He left his job at the academy and launched Atargis Energy Corp., named for the fish god of the Philistines, with Victor Korea in 2010 to commercialize the technology.
IN A NUTSHELL "There’s no such thing as a large-scale wave energy generator in the open ocean," Siegel says. "They produce power at far too high of a cost." He says Atargis’ hydrofoil-based design is a game-changer in that it’s projected to be cheaper than either solar or wind. And not only is it more efficient and less expensive on a per-kilowatt basis, it’s also more storm-proof.
Sensors detect waves before they hit, and Atargis’ technology makes the necessary adjustments. "By doing so we can interact more efficiently with waves of different height and length, and this efficiency in turn reduces the cost of energy since we get more wave energy converted to electricity," Siegel explains. "We can also feather the blades and move them to a neutral position in case the wave is larger than what our converter can handle to prevent storm damage."
Atargis has successfully tank-tested a 1/10-scale model of its design at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. "We were able to confirm our earlier results," Siegel says. The timeline calls for one more test in Texas next year before open-ocean testing a quarter-scale model at the Ocean Energy Test Site in Galway bay off the coast of Ireland in 2014, followed by a full-scale deployment of a prototype in 2015.
Wave energy is more reliable than solar (there’s only so much daylight in a day) and wind, so it’s more attractive to the big utilities that comprise the country’s electrical grid. "From a utility’s perspective, it’s a much more attractive deal," Siegel says.
THE MARKET Large and worldwide. Not only is wave energy more reliable than other renewable sources, the majority of the population lives near the ocean, says Siegel, alleviating the enormous transmission costs that have stymied big wind and solar projects. "Over 70 percent of the U.S. population lives within 100 miles of the ocean shores," he says. "These are all potential customers. Worldwide it’s even more drastic."
FINANCING Atargis was launched with a $285,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. "Our goal is to team up with a construction company," Siegel says of the longer-term plan. "We want to develop the technology and then license it out to large manufacturers." He estimates the company needs about $12.5 million in funding to cover the company’s operations through a full-scale deployment in 2015.
where Colorado Springs | FOUNDED 2010 | web www.atargis.com
"Wave energy can cover a significant portion of the electricity needed in the U.S. Estimates go up to 20 percent of the total. There’s a lot of power in those waves. It’s a widely available resource, and it’s available worldwide."
– Atargis Energy Corp. President and Chief Technology Officer Stefan Siegel
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com