Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 28, 1994

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

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage