Addressing water scarcity with ocean waves

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The Source
By: Lucy Frisch, Thu Jun 4 2020
Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

In honor of UN World Oceans Day (8 June), and in collaboration with Oceanic Global, we are excited to launch our new SDG 14 hub, dedicated to life below water. This day is about celebrating the ocean and its importance to the planet and our lives, while raising awareness about the many threats it faces. 

We had the chance to speak to a few of the experts who will be featured at the first-ever virtual United Nations World Oceans Day event. Here, renowned environmentalist and Co-Founder of Resolute Marine Energy (RME), Olivier Ceberio, shares how he approaches business and his key customers, how RME supports science communication, and what the future has in store.

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What is the mission behind Resolute Marine and what ideas led to the discovery of your Wave2O technology?

Water scarcity is one of the biggest threats to the stability and prosperity of the world. Approximately 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world's population, live in areas of physical water scarcity, another 500 million are threatened and the majority of those affected live in coastal areas in developing countries, islands and remote communities. The good news is that many of those most severely affected have access to an incredibly powerful and consistent source of clean energy: ocean waves. This is the problem we decided to try and solve in 2010 when Resolute Marine was founded. With our Wave2O™ technology, we can harness the power of ocean waves to run desalination systems and provide large quantities of fresh water to millions of people worldwide.

Our Wave2O™ technology has been under development for the last 10 years and we are now preparing for our first commercial deployment in Cape Verde. Cape Verde is an island nation with a relatively small population spread across nine islands. Approximately 84 percent of its 530,000 inhabitants have access to a water distribution network but frequent water shortages create stressful living conditions for the entire population.

Cape Verde relies upon seawater desalination to satisfy approximately 85 percent of fresh-water demand and all of its desalination plants are powered by diesel generators. Because diesel fuel is so expensive, the average cost of water in Cape Verde is one of the highest in Africa and among the highest in the world.

What does the partnership look like between Resolute Marine and the scientific community?

Our approach to building our business is unique because it comprises many more elements beyond deployments of Wave2O™ which will have a lasting positive impact on the communities where we work. We actively engage with key local stakeholders who use Wave2O™ as a platform for collaboration with the local scientific community to conduct research, co-generate intellectual property and create high-paying jobs.

For example, since 2013 Resolute has been collaborating with IMAR, the National Maritime Institute of Cape Verde, to perform several feasibility studies on the island of Sao Vicente where the first commercial deployments of Wave2O™ will take place. The feasibility studies are being financed by a $1.0M Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA) grant provided by the AfDB which includes a $250K budget for equipment and training for IMAR. We are currently seeking additional funding to complement the SEFA grant and provide more training to IMAR that would include the purchase of equipment for bathymetric and halieutic studies.

How is Resolute Marine addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically SDG14: Life below water? What does progress against the SDGs look like for your organization?

Wherever there is a combination of an energetic wave resource and a coastal community or region suffering from the effects of water scarcity, Wave2O™ will be a solution that can quickly and cost-effectively address local needs. We estimate that Wave2O™ can positively impact the lives of more than 300 million people while addressing at least 9 of the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals by providing clean water that enables millions of people to lead more healthy, peaceful and productive lives while fighting climate change though the displacement of diesel-driven desalination and water treatment systems that are in common use worldwide.

A commercial-scale Wave2O™ plant can produce an average of 4,000 m3/day of fresh water which is enough to supply the needs of approximately 40,000 people. By displacing the incumbent technology, diesel driven desalination system, Wave2O™ can reduce carbon emission by 4,000 tons per year, the equivalent of taking 900 cars off the road.

As already noted, we are actively engaged in the protection of the ocean ecosystem through our work with IMAR but we have also partnered with Biosfera, an environmental NGO, which is helping us identify optimal Wave2O™deployment locations throughout the nine island Cape Verde archipelago based on a variety of social, environmental and economic factors. We consider these kinds of synergistic relationships as critical to our success because they create significant positive impact through active mobilization and engagement with the local community.

Who are some of your key customers and how do you engage with each of them differently?

At present, our target customers are water utilities in developing countries and island nations however, in future, we will focus attention on providing water to local agriculture and aquaculture enterprises and adapting Wave2O™ for rapid-response disaster relief operations.

To build and maintain strong customer relationships, our strategy is to engage as many local stakeholders as possible and to try and include as many of their opinions of what should be done into our project development program. We have already mentioned IMAR and Biosfera, but our network in Cape Verde is actually much broader and includes most government ministries, the local power and water utility, the university of Cape Verde, the Chamber of Commerce, and the municipal government of Mindelo which is where the first commercial deployment of Wave2O™ will occur.

It is really exciting to see that we can build a very successful business around our wave-powered desalination technology while, at the same time, provide substantial environmental, social and economic benefits to everyone involved. We want our success to be a success for Cape Verde and ultimately, a success for the millions of people facing water scarcity in coastal communities around the world.

What approaches does Resolute Marine take to engage the public and support science communication?

Up until now, our strategy was to be relatively discreet and to avoid “overselling” what we are doing, but as we are getting closer to commercial deployment and more confident in our technology, we are expanding our public outreach to a broader audience. Our participation in the UN World Ocean Day 2020 is an example of this new impetus.

We are also very much involved in other critical aspects of this newly emerging industry. For example, our co-founder and CEO, Bill Staby, is Chair of the US delegation to IEC-TC 114 which is developing international standards and certification protocols for the marine energy industry.  Bill is also a member of the board of directors of the World Ocean Council and the Caribbean Desalination Association which promote the sustainable use of ocean resources and responsible development of robust Blue Economies.

Perhaps most importantly, we are expanding our outreach to the scientific community through our participation in academic, industrial and scientific consortia such as the EERES4WATER consortium which is funded by the European Union’s Interreg Atlantic Area initiative.  We also are technical advisors to the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute which is a consortium of four North Carolina Universities that are engaged in multiple aspects of the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program.

What advice do you have for researchers who are looking for ways to make an impact beyond their scholarly circles?

I would advise them to look for opportunity to partner with SMEs and startups. A startup is a great way to bring their contribution to the advancement of science closer to the people and for the benefit of our societies.

Partnerships between academic organizations and small private firms are also a great way to access resources such as R&D grant and help solving the problem of scarcity of resources inherent to startups.

What would you like to see for the future of Resolute Marine?

For me, the overarching goal of Resolute Marine is to demonstrate that wave energy has a role to play in our society and economy. We chose to first harness wave energy for seawater desalination because water scarcity is one of the top threats to global stability and the large need for medium-scale water production systems created an environment where an innovation like ours could be quickly adopted.

However, once we have proven that wave energy can be captured to drive a reliable and cost-effective fresh water production system, the possibilities for additional applications are almost limitless and include: electricity production, carbon sequestration, aquaculture, coral reef restoration, and power for ocean observation systems.

We can further imagine using our know-how to repurpose abandoned oil platforms to capture atmospheric CO2 and re-build fish and crustacean populations; to co-locate with offshore wind farms to generate more electricity within the same space and smooth electrical output; and to support underwater sensing systems that enhance our knowledge of the ocean environment and thereby preserve this precious resource for future generations.

All our interviews reflect the views and opinions of the interviewees.

Visit our new SDG14 hub to explore the latest content related to life below water.

About Olivier Ceberio

Olivier Ceberio
Olivier Ceberio is Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder at Resolute Marine Energy (RME), a technology company developing a wave-driven desalination system for developing countries and island nation. Prior to RME, Olivier was an Aeronautical Engineer at Starsem where he led the successful launch of satellites using the Russian rocket Soyuz, the rocket that launched Sputnik and Yuri Gagarine. At Starsem is also led the development, production and launch of a Russian rocket vehicle which enabled market entry of a revolutionary system that became Starsem’s commercial mainstay. Prior to RME, Olivier worked for 8 years in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Indonesia. He was employed by the World Bank and also worked in microfinance in India. He is a dual MBA/MPA graduate of MIT Sloan School of Management and Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Institut Supérieur de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace.


Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Lucy Frisch is a Senior Marketing Manager on the Outreach and Open Research team, based in the New York office. She has a passion for storytelling and works to humanize the research published across Springer Nature with a focus on the researcher experience.