Ocean Waves May Wash Up Answers for Improving Island Living By Ken Keatley Life is not all palm trees and coconuts on remote ocean islands. Too often, island inhabitants must pay exorbitant fees for hard-to-come-by necessities that mainlanders take for granted, especially electricity and potable water. Soon, however, the millions of people who live on the Earth's 100,000 islands may find that those resources can be both plentiful and affordable. Hopkins civil engineering research professor Michael E. McCormick believes an energy conversion system now under construction can use the power of ocean waves to solve those fundamental problems. In 1980, at a conference in England, Dr. McCormick--then director of ocean engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy--met an Irish civil engineer, Peter McCabe, who told him of a wave energy system he had invented and patented. Intrigued by the new system, Dr. McCormick tested it extensively in his Naval Academy lab and found it to be quite effective. "There are other wave energy systems out there, but most are extremely complicated, especially for people who may not be sophisticated enough to run them properly," Dr. McCormick said. "That's what makes the McCabe Wave Pump so exciting; it's not complicated at all." Dr. McCormick, who came to Hopkins as a part-time research professor in 1986, has continued to work with Dr. McCabe as a consultant and adviser. They eagerly await the day in late December when the first McCabe Wave Pump prototype is put into place in the Shannon estuary near Shannon Airport in Ireland. "If we start producing potable water from sea water, we'll not only improve life on these islands," he told students in his engineering design class last month, "but we may be able to bring water to irrigate desert regions on all continents that are currently uninhabitable." The McCabe system consists of three steel barges that are hinged together. The wave-generated motion of the first and third barges forces the center barge's high-pressure water pumps to drive salt water through a filtering system and then, via water hoses, to an on-island reverse osmosis desalination system. The result is a consistent, cheap supply of potable water. The McCabe system can generate thousands of gallons of water at a cost of $.007 per gallon. The cost of water is as high as $4 per gallon on some remote islands. "Not only does the pump provide a steady supply of water to people who now must rely on rainfall, but it does it in a simple and cost-effective way," said Dr. McCormick, who added the system can also supply electricity. "I'm not saying the McCabe pump is going to be the save-all, but it will surely have a positive effect on the lives of many." Dr. McCormick, who became a full-time research professor in January and directs the part-time engineering program at Hopkins, has collaborated on international projects in the past. He served as an adviser to the Wave Energy Executive Committee of the International Energy Agency in Paris, and invented a turbine that was installed in a Japanese wave energy power plant in 1980. To further the McCabe project, Dr. McCormick applied for a grant from the World Bank to sponsor an advanced engineering study of the system. He also plans to seek grants, with engineers from a Navy lab, to fund advanced studies of his and other wave energy conversion systems. The company Dr. McCabe has organized to develop the pump-- Hydam Ltd. of Malahide, Ireland--has received a $225,000 grant from the Irish Development Authority to construct the Shannon prototype. In recent weeks, a Belfast, Northern Ireland, company pledged $100,000 for the project, in a politically significant development in Ireland. "That the system is going to be an instrument for peace in Ireland makes it all the more appealing to me," Dr. McCormick said.
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