Japan wants to make the most of hydropower and is willing to go on the world’s strongest ocean current in order to do it. That is exactly what the new Kairyu turbine, a genuine behemoth capable of converting ocean currents into a seemingly unlimited supply of electricity, can do.
IHI Corporation, a subsidiary of Japan’s Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, has been working on this technology for more than ten years. In 2017, the company teamed up with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to put their innovations to the test.
The corporation finally completed a three-and-a-half-year field test in the waters off Japan’s southwestern coast in February 2022, marking a huge milestone.
Kairyu, which means “ocean current,” is the name of the 330-ton prototype. It consists of a 20-meter-long fuselage flanked by identical cylinders with a power generation system connected to an 11-meter-long turbine blade.
The generator will feed off the Kuroshio current, a Pacific current that goes up along the Japanese coast. “Kuroshio is one of the world’s strongest currents and a promising energy source,” said Shigeki Nagaya, IHI’s development manager overseeing the project.
The machine can automatically identify the most optimal place to generate power through the water current once it is anchored to the ocean floor by an anchor line and power cables. It can float 50 meters beneath the water’s surface. The drag caused as it floats towards the surface generates the torque required by the turbines.
To keep the turbine stable, the blades can also rotate in the opposite direction. IHI estimates that if the energy contained inside seas can be adequately exploited, it may create up to 205 gigawatts of electricity, nearly the same amount as the country presently generates from other sources.