Resolute Marine Wins Startup Open, Converts Wave Energy To Clean Water And Power

Resolute Marine Energy— a Boston startup whose technology harnesses wave energy for power generation, and transports seawater to on-shore desalination facilities— won Global Entrepreneurship Week’s inaugural Startup Open, the competition’s directors revealed today.

As their prize, co-founders and core team members of Resolute Marine receive an all-expenses-paid, one-day trip to the island owned by Sir Richard Branson where they will embark on a Maverick Business Adventure. These events draw groups of entrepreneurs together to network while engaging in some crazy activities, like cage diving with Great White sharks, off-road racing or kite boarding.

The Startup Open was run by the Kauffman Foundation, the Kansas City organization dedicated to the study and promotion of entrepreneurship, using iStart software (formerly to receive, review and process applications.

Unlike typical business competitions, there was no final pitch event, judges did not meet to review applications, and winners were selected based on compiled judges’ scores. Winners were picked from a pool of 50 finalists. The competition received 144 qualifying applications.

The chief operating officer and co-founder of Resolute Marine, Olivier Ceberio, spoke with TechCrunch about his company and the win. The following is a condensed version of the conversation.

Q: What does your company do?

A: Basically, Resolute Marine Energy uses the incredible power of the ocean to produce drinkable water and electricity.

William Staby who is my co-founder and chief executive, and I really wanted to solve a serious global problem. Over one billion people today lack access to safe drinking water. Over thirty percent of people, meanwhile, are living within 100 kilometers of the ocean according to a study we read by the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center.

People who lack access to safe drinking water also usually lack access to the power grid or affordable power. Our small scale system converts energy from the waves into electrical power or into pressurized seawater, so we can provide both drinking water and clean, more affordable power.

Q: How does your technology work?

A: Our engineering team led by Cliff Goudey and Allan Chertok have been working on a wave energy converter that’s not portable, but easy to ship and set up. It’s somewhere between two and three meters of width. One power plant and desalination processor for a community of about 30,000 people would have fifty of these, perhaps.

The wave energy converter is like a paddle. It is attached to the bottom of the sea, or the seabed. When a wave starts, the paddle moves back and forth. It extracts energy from the wave, and we use that to produce either electrical power or pressurized sea water. It can produce one or the other. We send those to the shore to drive a desalination system. The technology transports energy, or it can transport pressurized seawater, which is an input to the desalination processing systems on-shore.

We have not created a desalination processing system ourselves. For that, we will partner with other companies. We have begun talking with some of the world’s largest providers of small scale desalination systems.

Q: Who are your customers? Are your systems out on the market yet?

A: We have an early stage customer with whom we plan to do a commercial product installation by the end of 2012 in South Africa. We’re considering that as our launch market. When we do our commercial pilot, the idea will be to install our wave energy converters, and a desalination processing system, then let it work for a couple of months producing water in a self-sustaining, off-the-grid way.

When we are ready to commecialize the system and install it, the wave energy converters will be in situ for 10 years or up to 20 years, and we will provide maintenance over that lifetime.

We have to test our system out before the commercial pilot, probably in New England most likely in Maine. In the U.S. three states that are very active in wave energy research are Maine, Oregon and Hawaii. But worldwide, the core of the wave energy industry would be in Scotland, and Australia with some others in Europe where governments really want to find and use renewable energy. I feel that U.S. has been somewhat behind in this.

Q: How will winning this competition effect your business?

A: Anything that can help us get to commercialization as soon as possible is helpful. These competitions are critical for us. They help you get endorsements, press, [access to new] networks, feedback on your projects and from the community beyond the cleantech professionals you know.

We competed at Ignite Clean Energy in 2009, which is now a part of the Cleantech Open, and at Masschallenge this year where we were among the finalists. We got in-kind services but no major cash prizes. We have also won several government grants. Surprisingly they are not near enough to pay for everything a cleatech startup needs.

We will be raising private capital to finance all the aspects of our business from intellectual property protection, to rent and marketing. We will also continue along the competition circuit, and hope to compete and win prize money from some that are focused on water technology.