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Harnessing the power of the tides

[Ryan Mulligan]
Ryan Mulligan, an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering, will be presenting his work at the 4th Oxford Tidal Energy Workshop, being held at the University of Oxford on March 23-24. (University Communications)

Tapping the renewable energy found in the oceans’ tides is the focus of an upcoming conference at the University of Oxford and a Queen’s professor will be one of the presenters.

Ryan Mulligan, an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering, will be presenting his work at the 4th Oxford Tidal Energy Workshop, including the latest data collected by one of his Master’s students during a research cruise in the Bay of Fundy, one of the greatest potential sources of tidal energy in the world.

As a coastal engineer and oceanographer, Dr. Mulligan’s research is focused on the large-scale effects that tidal current turbines would have on the underwater environment.

“If we put out an array of tidal current turbines in the ocean to generate sufficient energy to power a city, which in the present economy isn’t feasible but could be in the future, we need   several hundred  turbines, like a windfarm but under water,” Dr. Mulligan explains. “My research uses computer models to examine the changes in the water levels, the currents and the sediment transport that could occur due to tidal energy extraction in the Bay of Fundy specifically.”

The data collected from the Bay of Fundy provides “validation against observation” for the modelling being done, he says.

The workshop also offers him a great opportunity to meet with others working in the field, particularly in the United Kingdom where the largest amount of research is being done.

“I know several people who will be there and read the work of others but I will get the chance to meet them, learn about tidal research at UK sites and get a better feel for how my research  fits into the global perspective,” he says. “Some researchers are doing similar work on basin-scale modelling  and the impacts on the marine environment, and others are investigating  turbulence  around the turbine blades and small-scale issues related to designing turbines, so there’s a large range of scales of fluid motion that are going to be discussed.”

Dr. Mulligan says he is honoured to be the only Canadian, and only North American, to present at the UK-focused research symposium that will bring together many of the leading researchers in the field.

Extracting energy from tidal currents is still in the early stages of research, Dr. Mulligan points out, but there are projects that are bringing harnessing the vast amounts of power closer to a reality.

The workshop will be held March 23-24 at University of Oxford.