Biofilm prevention in the generator of a direct drive wave energy converter


  • Nick Baker Newcastle University
  • Serkan Turkmen
  • Chang Li



biofilm, biofouling, power take off


Power take off in a wave energy converter has a number of unique requirements. It must convert low speed oscillating motion into electricity in a reliable, low maintenance manner. A direct drive system, where the electrical machine is optimised to operate at low speed, has the potential to offer a mechanically robust and simple solution. Similar to a hydraulic power take off, the only regular maintenance would be to inspect and replace the seal between moving parts. One strategy for removing regular maintenance is to have an unsealed system, i.e. one where sea water is allowed throughout the electrical machine. A fully flooded electrical machine has benefits in terms of cooling, but poses challenges relating to reliability, corrosion, biofouling and lubrication.

Biofilm refers to a thin layer of fouling organisms which can interfere with the operation of components. Recent work has found that submerged surfaces can be kept free of biofouling using projected ultraviolet (UV) light from LEDs. This paper discusses the testing procedure and impact of the UVC irradiation on biofilm prevention within the active part of an electric generator in a systematic manner, with a view to accelerate its translation to full-scale applications.

A prototype generator is being developed which will be installed in the North Sea, consisting of a submerged linear tubular electrical machine. A magnetic tubular translator will oscillate within a cylinder that houses stator coils. Lubrication will be by way of solid polymer bearings. In order that the active part of the electrical machine can oscillate smoothly, it is imperative that biofilm is prevented from colonising on the bearing surface, which also makes up the magnetic gap of the electrical machine.

The system will have a slow reciprocating oscillation, with a peak speed of perhaps 2m/s. For most wave energy converters there will be brief static periods twice in every wave, and in calm seas these could be prolonged to several hours or even days. In low energy sea states oscillation amplitude could be less than the fully rated amplitude, meaning different parts of the bearing surface could be exposed for different amounts of time.

Early-stage work is underway to investigate the use of UV irradiation in the active part of the electrical machine and bearing surface as biofilm prevention. Flat panels (600mm x 220mm) are used to simulate the original surfaces between moving parts. To achieve biofilm growth, an artificial slime farm was deployed which allows test panels to be subjected to a continuous dynamic flow. The light source of UV irradiation was provided by Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) with 278nm wavelength. The effectiveness of the biofilm prevention by UVC were evaluated by Image Analysis

The results indicate that UVC can significantly control biofilm presence on the panels. It also has demonstrated that intermittent UV can achieve successful biofilm prevention on submerged surfaces. However, observations indicate the actual UVC light intensity may perform below the manufacturer’s specifications, and this could lead to a detrimental effect on its biofilm control performance.



How to Cite

N. Baker, S. Turkmen, and C. Li, “Biofilm prevention in the generator of a direct drive wave energy converter”, Proc. EWTEC, vol. 15, Sep. 2023.