Ocean Energy: Products and Pollutants (2017-2018)


As technological developments have better enabled us to understand and exploit ocean common-pool resources, the ocean’s economic potential will continue to be harnessed in new ways to meet demands for energy (offshore oil and gas, methane hydrates and alternative wind, tide, wave sources), food security (aquaculture, fisheries), minerals (deep sea mining), pharmaceuticals and other emerging needs.

Oceans also represent a significantly less visible, highly interconnected and more difficult environment to manage than most terrestrial systems. Ocean energy entails significant risks, the most visible of which is the risk of oil spills either from production or from transportation of crude oil in ocean settings, but including lesser known threats such as noise pollution that results from various industrial processes involved in producing ocean energy.

Ocean energy is, indeed, a much larger and more complex topic than just oil spills. The surge in ocean renewable energy technologies, including algae biofuels, and newfound hydrocarbon reserves make this issue an emerging one that also has a significant history.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project team will focus on the products (e.g., energy from multiple sources) as well as pollutants (e.g., ocean noise, altered seascapes) resulting from ocean energy development.

Team members will analyze the values, judgments and preferences inherent in competing visions for management and governance of ocean energy resources and how to manage the products and pollutants. Through team discussions and activities, individual research and writing and interaction with classmates, instructors and collaborators, team members will assess the consequences of human decisions of current ocean energy issues including:

  • Deep-sea mining
  • Traditional oil/gas development
  • Renewable energy sources and engineering new technologies
  • Governance of “high-seas” ocean energy resources.

Ocean waves represent an enormous source of energy that could be tapped to power long-range buoys in remote ocean locations. The engineering component of this project will involve designing, building and testing an ocean energy harvesting buoy. Potential implications from this work include the ability to expand the operational life of buoys indefinitely as the need to replace batteries will become unnecessary. The potential to create mesh networks of wireless sensing data buoys, then, could serve multiple purposes. Monitoring marine mammal migratory patterns, seismic activity, meteorological phenomenon and navigational aids are among the many application areas that already exist. 

The goals of the applications portion of the project involve exploring the energy response of a standard ocean buoy based on its geometry (e.g. size, shape, center of mass) in an aquatic environment (e.g. wave tank tests and ocean tests at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort). Tested devices will be deployed at the Duke Marine Lab.

Anticipated Outcomes

Interactive Ocean Energy catalog (history of ocean energy development; types of energy currently available or envisioned for the oceans; relevant institutions and their roles in managing ocean energy; sustainability implications of coupling concerned systems and/or societal institutions); energy development map connected with important ecological and economic systems; design, testing and evaluation of newly engineered systems for harvesting ocean energy; expert panel on ocean energy


Fall 2017 – Spring 2018  

  • Fall 2017: Structure and outline of issues to be addressed and of products for sub-teams; expert panel on ocean energy
  • Spring 2018: Products completed by May 31

Team Outcomes to Date

A Tidal Energy Feasibility Study: Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea (poster by James Barry, Olivia Eskew, Alexandra DiGiacomo, Grant Larson, Tamasha Pathirathna, Christina Pipkin, Kelsey Johnson-Sapp, Sarina Weiss, Patrick Halpin, Douglas Nowacek), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

Designing an Energy Harvesting Buoy (poster by Miles Burnette, Kip Coonley, Chad Curd, Jack Ferrante, Conrad Mitchell, Era Kurtaliaj, Spencer Perkins, Dane Sequiera, Maxwell Silverstein, Matthew Treiber, Alexandra Wen, Martin Brooke, Brian Mann, Douglas Nowacek, John Virdin), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

See earlier related team, History and Future of Ocean Energy (2016-2017).

Wind turbines

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Lori Bennear, Nicholas School of the Environment-Environmental Sciences and Policy
  • Martin Brooke, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering*
  • Elizabeth DeMattia, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Jay Golden, Nicholas School of the Environment-Earth and Ocean Sciences
  • Patrick Halpin, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation*
  • Zackary Johnson, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation*
  • Brian Mann, Pratt School of Engineering-Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science*
  • Douglas Nowacek, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation*
  • Stephen Roady, Duke Law
  • John Virdin, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions*

/graduate Team Members

  • Olivia Eskew, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management
  • Kelsey Johnson-Sapp, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management
  • Carley Reynolds, Master of Environmental Management, Environmental Economics/Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • James Barry, Biology (BS)
  • Miles Burnette, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Alexandra DiGiacomo
  • Jack Ferrante, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Era Kurtaliaj, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Grant Larson, Environmental Sciences (BS)
  • Molly Mansfield
  • Tamasha Pathirathna, Computer Science (BS)
  • Spencer Perkins, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Christina Pipkin, Environmental Engineering(BSE)
  • Maxwell Silverstein, Computer Science (BS), Environmental Sciences (BS2)
  • Thomas Tilton, Computer Science (BS), Philosophy (AB2)
  • Matthew Treiber, Economics (AB)
  • Sarina Weiss, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Alexandra Wen, Biology (BS)
  • Jana Woerner, Environmental Sciences (BS)