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It might sound like an exaggeration to say that the concept breakthrough behind M3 Wave’s ocean power device and its subsequent commercialization are all based on a 1991 MIME senior engineering project. However, the founders of the wave energy converter technology company, Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes, stand by the legend. The long, complicated story of their senior project involves plastic spoons, breaking into a derelict wave tank in some old campus building for testing, and a few pieces repurposed from that iconic bit of 1980s technology, the Sony Walkman.
Morrow and Delos-Reyes have known each other since they were 4 years old. They grew up on the same street in Salem, Oregon, but attended different schools. Reunited at Oregon State as mechanical engineering students, they worked together on a few engineering competitions before ultimately partnering on their senior project.
“We did not want to do one of the pre-canned projects, so we developed our own,” Morrow said. “That became the technology we are commercializing today.”
The project attracted some attention and won awards at various competitions, but it was forgotten for years after Morrow entered the career world and Delos-Reyes continued his studies.
M3 Wave was founded in 2008 after the friends crossed paths again, this time as co-workers at the HP campus in Corvallis. Morrow said to Delos-Reyes one day in the hallway: “You know, these guys are still fooling around with surface buoys, and we came up with what we thought was a better technology almost 20 years ago. Let’s form a company, and see what we can do with it.”
M3 Wave’s Apex wave energy converter (WEC) is mounted to the ocean floor, rather than bobbing at the surface like the buoy-style WECs in development by the company’s competitors. With the Apex, there are no buoys or cables to interfere with fleet fishing, recreation, panoramic vistas, or sea creatures. And, according to the results of the company’s open-water testing, the Apex appears to be more durable, able to withstand longer deployments without equipment loss due to storms.
The U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Review Panel referred to the Apex as a “disruptive technology.” Morrow calls it a more socioeconomically sound and sustainable solution.
“I did a study on how many units it would take to deliver half a gigawatt of capacity, and what real estate that array would require, and for us that was about one square mile,” Morrow said. “The competing technology, a buoy device, would take about 13 square miles.”
This year, M3 Wave was a finalist for the U.S. Wave Energy Prize, competing against eight other companies for the $1.5 million award from the Department of Energy. The competition is intended to drive the development of more capable WECs, ultimately reducing the cost of wave energy to make it more competitive with traditional energy solutions.
The company’s founders acknowledge there is still much research and development to go before households can start running their toasters with wave energy.
“It depends on where you live,” Morrow said. “If you live in Oregon, it will be a while. Oregon has cheap power, and it may be that there are demonstration projects, but we still need a megawatt-class device.
Apex as a full-scale 150 kW device would be about 40 feet wide and 100 feet long, and it would deliver neighborhood-scale power. Or island-scale power. Or disaster-specific location power.
“Consider Fukushima – if we had something like that back then, we could have provided power to the backup pump, and they wouldn’t have had some of the issues they had with the backup power, and how things went,” Morrow said.