Wave Tank

NREL's wave tank, located in the Sea Wave Environmental Lab (SWEL) at the Flatirons Campus, is an ocean-simulation tool that can validate small- to large-scale offshore technology, including marine energy devices and offshore wind turbines and solar panels.

At the Flatirons Campus in Arvada, Colorado, developers working on marine energy devices—as well as offshore wind turbines and solar panels—can receive comprehensive support to take their technology from abstract concept to the ocean and, eventually, the market and energy grid.

NREL's engineers and technicians are highly qualified to assist with rapid prototyping and validating technology designs. And SWEL's wave tank can emulate many of the conditions that ocean-bound devices may face at sea. Because open-water tests can come with high costs and risks, technology developers can use the wave tank to validate their small- and large-scale devices in a relatively low-risk environment and ensure they are well-prepared to succeed offshore.

Explore the tank's capabilities and specifications in the following sections or via the NREL wave tank fact sheet.


NREL's wave tank provides a versatile testing environment for marine energy research allowing for wet validation of small-scale devices that are approximately 1/75 the size of a full-scale device. One side of the tank is glass so developers can observe how technology, such as mooring equipment, functions beneath the water's surface.

Combined with NREL's simulation and advanced manufacturing capabilities, SWEL can enable rapid design, prototyping, and validation in one location. Technology developers can manufacture a small-scale prototype using NREL's 3D printers. Then, they can use the wave tank to gather data on how the device performs, make changes based on the results, manufacture a new prototype, and continue to quickly validate and upgrade their design.


Wave tank users can access a National Instruments CompactRIO controller and software to precisely control their experiments and specify spectrum type, significant wave height, and wave period.

The OMEY Labs wave tank:

  • Features a flap-type, 2D wave generator
  • Is 14 meters long, 1.3 meters deep, and 2.5 meters wide
  • Holds 13,000 gallons of fresh water
  • Generates up to 0.2-meter-amplitude, linear waves at a variety of frequencies (0.5–5 seconds), which is 1:50- to 1:100-scale pitched to North Atlantic seas
  • Offers a glass flume wall for external underwater observation and imaging
  • Provides a robust mooring system capable of withstanding 500 pounds of hold force
  • Has a wave absorber to prevent wave reflection.

The SWEL also has the following additional support instrumentation, which enables more robust device validation:

  • Four motion tracking camera to monitor device dynamics
  • Three wireless ocean sensors
  • Flow meters
  • Accelerometers
  • Pressure sensors
  • Load cells.
An artist's rendering of a wave tank with a wave energy device floating in the middle.
In the early stages of technology development, failure is—and should be—common. Failures guide developers to the best designs, and a wave tank, like the one here, can help marine energy developers try out prototype after prototype in a relatively low-risk environment. Image from OMEY Labs

Opportunities for Collaboration

By combining the wave tank in the SWEL with other assets at NREL's Flatirons Campus, such as the Controllable Grid Interface, researchers can verify how their device interacts with the grid or integrates with other technologies.

The lab welcomes new collaborations with internal NREL researchers and external developers who aim to validate their technology, integrate technologies, or perform facilities research.