Industrialist Ramuel Maramara may have reinvented the way oceanic energy is harvested. If his artificial jellyfish proves seaworthy.
That’s the next big test for Maramara and Brimes Energy, the Stony Brook-based startup he incorporated in 2014. Already a successful businessman on two continents – well, one continent and an archipelago – the Filipino native and his team are planning ocean testing this summer for a “jellyfish” device that improves upon Salter’s Duck, the longstanding top model for converting wave power into electricity.
Invented in the 1970s by Englishman Stephen Salter, the Duck generates electricity through rotating internal gyroscopes spun up by undulating waves. And with remarkable success: Overall efficiency is up to 90 percent, according to some estimates. Improving upon the pear-shaped converter is now the Holy Grail of oceanic power.
As the story goes, the Duck was hobbled by a combination of factors, including a general lack of enthusiasm for renewable energy in the 1980s and an analytical error that multiplied the cost of Duck-generated energy by a factor of 10.
That error was recently identified, and combined with today’s white-hot enthusiasm for renewables, interest in oceanic energy is rising again. Now, the race is on to improve on Salter’s designs and get to the mass-production stage.
Maramara thinks he has the inside track. After two years of prototype designs and lab tests in Brimes Energy’s custom-built wave tank, his 15-man team has come up with a jellyfish-like device that offers the same functionality as Salter’s Duck but boasts a simpler design, lowering investment costs and increasing kilowatt output, according to Maramara.
Despite those promising tests, Maramara is careful not to get ahead of himself. While the jellyfish has proven itself in his company’s 4,500-gallon wave tank, this summer’s ocean tests, featuring a larger steel prototype, will be the real watermark. The wave tank, which measures 40 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet deep and sways under the power of a 5-kilowatt servomotor, produces waves as high as 18 inches – good for lab tests, the inventor noted, but not quite actual ocean conditions.
“In the ocean, there are so many combinations of different wave lengths and wave heights,” he said. “We need to test the hydrodynamics, the buoyancy, see how it behaves in the water. After that, we’ll start measuring the efficiency. This is just a step to learn about real-world conditions.”
Best-case scenario: Brimes Energy is three years away from producing a market-ready product, according to the founder, who probably knows what he’s talking about. Since immigrating to United States in 2005, Maramara has built one successful business here, the Holbrook machine-maker Brimes Industrial Inc., and still owns his first startup, East Asia Mechatronics, another industrial-device producer located back in the Philippines.
Maramara’s test tank is also in Holbrook, although Brimes Energy is headquartered inside Stony Brook University’s clean energy incubator.
Though still years away from a finished product, Brimes Energy has raised $50,000 in angel funding and another $175,000 in venture capital. All in, the company has amassed a total of about $300,000 so far.
That will prove to be a spit in the ocean if his jellyfish flies or, in this case, floats. David Hamilton, the clean energy incubator’s director of business development, thinks Maramara’s got the goods, dubbing the inventor “a classic U.S. success story.”
“Ram is a brilliant mechanical engineer,” Hamilton told Innovate LI. “He’s come up with a unique, cost-effective way to convert wave energy, which is the hardest and most challenging renewable energy, and we’re very excited by his technologies. We expect great things.”
Maramara readily acknowledges that this would be a very different story without CEBIP’s help.
“It’s an excellent incubator,” he said. “Without CEBIP, we wouldn’t have been able to get those investments. David is very aware of all the grants available through the state and other opportunities for green energy. He even introduced us to an IP lawyer.”
Even with CEBIP’s support, the international entrepreneur realizes this is no done deal. When it comes to harnessing the power of the sea, he’s not the only industrialist looking to make a splash.
“There are many companies that have tried and failed,” said Maramara, who graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in mechanical engineering. “The Department of Energy has supported many projects, but it’s still looking for the right solution to ocean-energy harvesting – the right design and the right company to build it.”
Despite the heavy competition, the inventor is confident that the jellyfish – for which Brimes Energy holds a provisional patent and is awaiting final patent approval – “is really going to be the ‘it’ machine.”
“Ocean waves are the third-most abundant energy resource, behind solar and wind,” Maramara said. “That’s why the Department of Energy and the [U.S.] Navy are devoting so many resources to developing this technology.
“We just need to build a machine that is cost-effective and can pay for itself.”