ICécile Faure I December 2019 I
Winter has not yet arrived on our shores, but drastic weather conditions have already left their marks. Gale force winds and high waves, torrential rains and floods are frequently on the news headlines. 2019 delivered new weather records, with their dramatic effects both on human lives and the environment. Climate urgency is becoming a daily read and conversation, but yet fails to reach consensus on measures to be taken and imposed by governments, as recently seen with COP25.
But all may not be lost, fortunately! If political issues and personal agendas don’t hold back what most see has an emergency situation that requires regulatory implementations and government funding, hope may still be in sight thanks to those who are looking for innovative solutions, and are putting in all they have, including their own private equity, to make it happen.
I met one of them, Dr William Bateman, who kindly opened his laboratory office in North London to share his story here and hopefully raise financial support.
Tackling coastal erosion
What is really at stake? On 8th July 2019, the UK Government launched a call for evidence of floods and coastal erosion, in line with the publication of the Environment Agency’s Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) draft strategy in May 2019. It is estimated that 5 million of people in England are considered at risk.
In fact, coastlines across the world are affected by the surge in water levels and wave forces. Between 1985 and 2018, recordings by 80 ocean buoys across the world have shown that waves have grown 5% (that is 30cm). Waves have also increased in strength by 0.4% each year for the past 60 years.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2019 clearly established that extreme weather conditions, including floods and storm surges, are the first of all the risks likely to dramatically touch populations living by the sea – and we are not talking here of small and remote fishing villages that could be easily displaced. No. What is at stake is the flooding and destruction of island-nations (e.g. Micronesia, Maldives and Seychelles, etc.) and vast cities established on the seashore for trade reason – from Rotterdam (Holland) to Tianjin (China), from Boston (USA) to Lagos (Nigeria), from Brisbane (Australia) to Dublin (Ireland), and consequently the increase in climate induced migration of populations. No country with a coastline in the world is safe from flooding.
Long is the list of destructive events that have already occurred, and a huge number of international studies have been published in recent years to warn authorities and the public. This includes a wide range of effective mitigation measures to consider.
So let it be clear, it is a NOW question of fight-or-flight!
Adapting, fighting back and resilience are in human nature. So before packing our belongings for the mountain huts, engineers have been scratching their brains and are coming up with a wide range of coastal management propositions. One distinguishes the hard engineering solutions (e.g. sea wall, coast barrage, rock armour and cliff fixing) from the soft engineering ones (e.g. beach and dune stabilisation, coastal afforestation, mangrove preservation, coral reef enhancement). Compared to the latter, hard engineering is commonly considered a short-term expensive solution with potential detrimental effect on the environment.
Dr William Bateman, CEO and founder of CCell Renewables Ltd – a civil and environmental engineer, holding a PhD from Imperial College having studied the directional effects of extreme ocean waves, with considerable experience in stochastic models used by the marine and insurance industries for the past 20 years – is today testing a wild but perfectly feasible idea.
He and his team of mechanical and modelling engineers, and dedicated professionals in the UK and more recently in Mexico, have opted for soft engineering and are proposing to tackle coastal erosion by breaking waves whilst supporting the development of marine wildlife habitat.
Harvesting wave’s energy to protect the shores and restore marine habitat
To make it simple: To date, CCell is a gigantic yellow paddle made of fiberglass mounted on a steel structure with an electric generator at its core. The curved blade can tolerate waves from any direction thanks to a clever roll mechanism, which enables it to survive large storms. The blade faces out to sea, and harvests the power that is mainly within the top tier of the wave. The mechanical energy is then converted into electricity by the generator, and either accumulated in batteries or dispensed as required.
Dr Bateman is adamant about it. His purpose is not to find an energy supply solution for the land. He will tell you that solar, wind and other renewable sources are far more efficient and easy to implement remotely.
He and his team are studying the wave behaviour and the power generated by this force of nature to contribute to:
- Reduce the impact on shores that are being eroded and
- Facilitate the creation or restoration, and enhancement of coral reefs.
CCell works in combination with a structure (made of a construction steel mesh) meant to become an artificial reef, both breaking the large destructive waves – that is where Dr Bateman extensive knowledge of wave behaviour comes in full use – and providing shelter to marine life.
CCell’s generator provides electricity to an anode placed inside the artificial reef frame.
The finely monitored electrolysis forces calcium carbonate found in the seawater to accumulate on the wire mesh, coating it in a limestone (bone-like) layer. This in turn, combined with freshly attached small pieces of coral, becomes the foundation of a new and fast developing coral reef (estimated at up to 2.5cm per year, with research conducted by Living Reefs Foundation on the effect of electrolysis in the process). The technique was originally developed and implemented in Indonesia by BioRock, but with electricity sourced from generators on the shore, and on a much smaller scale than planned today.
CCell Renewables Ltd has pushed this process further and optimized it. Protecting the shores and restoring wildlife habitats at the same time, whilst the use of Nature’s power, without polluting, makes the whole process fully sustainable.
CCell Renewables Ltd was incorporated in 2015 (as a spin out from Zyba Limited), with financial support from both private investors and public sponsors, including the UK government agencies (i.e. InnovateUK since 2013 and EPSRC since 2015) and the EU (i.e. Fortissimo, part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020). They also successfully showcased at COP 23 and COP 24.
For the past four years, the company has developed and tested the paddle, that is today in its third generation, with an optimised shape and light-weight composite construction.
The technology has evolved from the shores of Cumbria (England) to the states of Yucatan (Mexico):
- To respond to the needs of authorities and communities, including the growing tourist industry, dramatically affected by coastal erosion, and
- To develop partnerships with local manufacturers to make the project more cost efficient, including the possibility to make mistakes and optimise at a lesser expense.
CCell Renewables Ltd has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on the platform Crowdcube for an amount of £270,000. To date, as this article is published, the company has already received pledges totalling beyond its target, with another 20 days left of fundraising. www.crowdcube.com/ccell
When asked, Dr Bateman explains that the first 100K of the funds would be allocated to the building of 200 meters of artificial reef (including materials, transport, labour and fixed costs) in the Yucatan coastal area where they have been working. The remaining funds would go towards research to optimise even further the whole project, putting together all the various technologies, testing and modelling electricity and water flow within the artificial reef structures, scientifically accounting for the impacts on marine habitat and life.
As part of the expansion and research endeavour of the company, a small portion of the funds will support hiring of students, who have either an engineering or a marine background, some from the UK, some from the Continent.
“Most years we take on a couple of students from various Grandes Écoles (Centrale, Mines, etc) across France, who work for us as on 6 or 9 months placements, specifically incorporated into their training to ensure they get practical hands-on experience.
What we have seen is exceptional engineers who not only have a strong theoretical base, but are also very hands-on and willing to give almost anything a go and succeed. They also have a superb work ethic. This makes them as good as those from either Cambridge, Imperial or Oxford.” Dr Bateman
As for the funding, in a nutshell
CCell (the paddle) and the technologies jointly developed are the archetype of what can be done at an almost individual initiative level, already providing effective answers when authorities and governments are still assessing problems and arguing on the necessity to act.
Crowdfunding is increasingly the solution for small organisations to acquire financial support by concerned and convinced members of the public, from small to big participation (some backed by government tax efficiency tools such as SEIS and EIS), with in mind always a risk to lose one’s investment, but the certainty to have at least helped make a difference.
The run towards Green is indeed on all agendas, as shown by the almost exponential multiplication of
- Sustainable investment venture capital funds within the already established financial institutions, large energy and engineering corporates but also at start up initiative levels
- Meet-up (almost speed dating) events such as ChangeNow in Paris (30 January), Sustainability Summit 2020 in London (26 March) or EcoSummit in Berlin (6 – 7 may) to only name a few, all surfing the wave. However, note that such gatherings are, due to the price tag, of limited access for those whose funds must be first allocated to serving their project before marketing it, with no certainty of success, to eager-for-returns institutional investors.
For further information and to contact Dr Bateman and his team, please go to www.ccell.co.uk