Could waves from swimming power your pool?

| February 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

If you’ve ever swum a lap, you know how much work it takes to move your body through the water. Thank the laws of fluid dynamics for that. But those same dynamics also make swimming a great exercise. Among the many benefits of swimming is the fact that it is one of the few exercises that works all your muscles. Put simply, when you swim, you expend a lot of energy. That energy produces a lot of waves, so much so that competitive swimmers rely on special racing lane lines to protect them from the waves of other swimmers.

Swimmer doing breaststroke

A Wake Forest University researcher recently found that swimmers produce far more tidal energy than previously thought. From Bill Slattery Jr.

But what if that wave energy could be recaptured and used?

That’s the experiment a researcher from Wake Forest University recently conducted resulting in an answer that could have repercussions for swimming facilities all over the world. Sophmore Yinger “Eagle” Jin built an oscillating water column that measures how much electricity can be produced from swimmers’ waves. Air is forced out of the column as a wave rises and fresh air is drawn in as the wave falls.This movement drives a turbine that converts the wave energy into electricity.

But it was the amount of energy this simple device produced that surprised even Jin. Just the energy of the waves from swimmers’ laps was able to generate 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity. That’s enough to power a pool room for an entire day!

What does this say about the amount of energy expended during swimming? This is a question scientists and athletes have been pondering for some time as they attempt to unlock the secrets and mysteries of fluid dynamics to improve speed. The question revolves around two “fundamental determinants” of swimming speed: resistive forces from the water and propulsive forces swimmers generate. In pools those two forces produce waves.

Tidal energy UK

The principles behind Jin’s research are the same as behind this wave power generator in the UK. From DECCGovUK.

Jin’s experiment seems to be the first to show that those waves can produce valuable energy. But wave energy production has bigger implications worldwide. The same thing that happens in the pool happens at a much larger scale in the ocean. Many see wave power as one of the most promising forms of alternative energy. So far there are only a handful of projects around the world.

Jin hopes to calculate how much energy is produced off the coast of North Carolina. But if it could be harnessed, total wave energy around the continental shelf of the United States could produce enough energy to provide an estimated 247,000,000 U.S. homes with power annually.

If Jin’s most recent discovery bears out, it’s exciting to think that wave energy could also start powering your local pool.

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Category: Pools, Sustainability

About the Author

Gary Thill is the former editor of Aquatics International, an award-winning magazine for the commercial pool and waterpark markets. He is a nationally recognized writer and editor with an extensive communications background that includes print, online and social media.