Electricity from the Ocean Waves

WACKER is the first silicone manufacturer to successfully produce ultrathin precision silicone films as rollstock. When these silicone films are laminated with electrodes, they act as dielectric elastomers. They can be used for developing innovative technologies, such as power plants that derive energy from ocean waves.

Ocean waves could theoretically produce up to 29,500 terawatt hours of electricity per year – more than the planet’s entire annual energy demand.

When waves strike the quay wall sending spray high into the air, even land lubbers can appreciate the massive energy being released. According to United Nations projections, the world’s wave energy potential is 29,500 terawatt hours – more than the entire planet’s annual energy demand. Up to now, however, no systems have been available that are technologically mature enough to offer a reliable, cost-effective method of harvesting the latent power of the sea. While prototypes of hydraulic wave power plants have been developed, these are repeatedly destroyed by the energy they are actually meant to harvest – by the waves themselves, in other words, mostly as a consequence of winter storms.

Principle of a wave park using electroactive polymers

Functional Membranes

Silicone elastomers repel water but are permeable to certain gases. ELASTOSIL® Film is no different in this respect. The silicone films hold back water, but grant free passage to water vapor and certain gases. This gas permeability is highly selective: carbon dioxide, oxygen and water vapor pass through the silicone layer much faster than nitrogen. ELASTOSIL® Film could therefore serve as a membrane for removing a specific gas, such as carbon dioxide.

Artificial Muscles

A new, environmentally friendly approach to harvesting electricity from ocean waves is now available, however, thanks to the industrial research project Silicone-Based Electroactive Polymers for Energy Generation, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Wacker Chemie AG is providing the base material for this project – an ultrathin film based on silicone that can be employed as a dielectric elastomer. Dielectric elastomers belong to the family of electroactive polymers (EAPs), which change their shape when electricity is applied, thereby converting electrical energy to mechanical energy. Because their mechanism of action is similar to that of natural muscles, EAPs are frequently referred to as “artificial muscles.”

“Silicone films withstand over ten million compressive cycles without the slightest sign of material fatigue.”

Dr. Andreas Köllnberger Global Product Development Manager, Engineering Silicones