Wave Tank

NREL's Flatirons Campus offers an ocean-simulation tool that can validate small- to large-scale offshore technology, including marine energy devices and offshore wind turbines and solar panels.

A woman in hard hat stands next to an indoor wave tank.
The wave tank at NREL's Flatirons Campus provides a versatile testing environment for marine energy research and offshore wind energy or solar power. Exploring how prototypes might respond to an ocean environment before setting sail can help developers save costs and speed up the design process. Photo by Joe DelNero, NREL

At NREL's Flatirons Campus, 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 the lab'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.

Wave Tank Capabilities

The wave tank at NREL provides a versatile testing environment for marine energy research. It is located at the NREL Flatirons Campus in Arvada, Colorado. The tank provides 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, the wave tank 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 Specifications  

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
  • Can support devices up to 1.5 tons in weight (deployed via crane)
  • Provides a robust mooring system capable of withstanding 500 pounds of hold force
  • Has a wave absorber to prevent wave reflection.

The wave tank 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 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.