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Supercomputers Assist International Engineering Team on Wave Energy Project

‘Comet’ and ‘Bridges’ Validate Novel Simulation Tool

Published April 7, 2020

A team from San Diego State University and Northwestern University used the Comet and Bridges supercomputers to simulate inertial sea wave energy converter devices in collaboration with Polytechnic University of Turin.  Credit: Mattiazzo Group, Politecnico di Turin

By Kimberly Mann Bruch, SDSC Communications

Similar to solar panels and wind turbines, wave energy converters harness energy from Mother Nature's resources – specifically ocean waves – and turn them into electricity. While this process has not yet been perfected, it has the potential to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

While several challenges, such as operating complex devices in harsh ocean conditions, must be overcome before wave energy becomes a realistic option for mainstream power, one step toward a solution was recently studied and validated by an international team of engineering researchers. The team’s findings related to their wave energy simulation tool was published in  the Journal of Computational Physics, with the outcomes validated using the Comet supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and Bridges at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC).

Focused on modeling complex fluid-structure interaction problems, the research team’s study encompassed simulations such as heavy rigid structures interacting with high winds, breaking waves, and other complex marine characteristics. 

“We primarily used our simulation techniques to investigate inertial sea wave energy converters, which are renewable energy devices developed by our collaborators at the Polytechnic University of Turin that convert wave energy from large bodies of water into electrical energy,” explained study co-author Amneet Pal Bhalla, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at San Diego State University. “There is a need for these devices to perform effectively year-round using optimal control strategies, and our simulations could be an initial step in making this happen.”

The implementation of the team's solver was shown to be highly scalable on modern high-performance computer architectures and used by the larger research community to better understand various fluid-structure interaction problems. This animation shows the interaction of an inertial sea wave energy converter device with incoming ocean waves in a “numerical” wave tank. Credit: Bhalla Group, San Diego State University

Because wave energy converter engineering is still in the research and development phase, such simulations allowed the scientists to show how their models could let engineers inexpensively investigate their design space before building full-scale prototypes. 

Some large-scale modeling challenges were also encountered by the researchers while conducting their study. For example, while their work required hundreds of processors and multiple days of time to run, computational time on Comet and Bridges enabled them to demonstrate the parallel scalability of their simulation technique as well as validate various three-dimensional, large-scale test cases. The researchers also used the College of Engineering’s Fermi high-performance computing service at San Diego State University.

“The supercomputers helped us demonstrate that our technique is robust and can be used for complex engineering problems,” said Bhalla. “We are extremely grateful for being able to push the boundaries of various simulation techniques to expand our research on better engineering converters for this untapped resource of wave energy.”

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (award DGE1324585) and the NSF’s SI2 program (awards OAC 1450327 and OAC 1450374).  Supercomputer time was allocated via the NSF’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE).

About SDSC

As an Organized Research Unit of UC San Diego, SDSC is considered a leader in data-intensive computing and cyberinfrastructure, providing resources, services, and expertise to the national research community, including industry and academia. Cyberinfrastructure refers to an accessible, integrated network of computer-based resources and expertise, focused on accelerating scientific inquiry and discovery. SDSC supports hundreds of multidisciplinary programs spanning a wide variety of domains, from earth sciences and biology to astrophysics, bioinformatics, and health IT. SDSC’s petascale Comet supercomputer is a key resource within the National Science Foundation’s XSEDE (eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment) program.