Chiang Mei, the Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT, is one of the earliest advocates of ocean wave energy. Since the late 1970s he has been working on developing new ways of harnessing this awesome renewable force -- research which recently culminated in the creation of the oscillating water column (OWC).

The device is the product of Mei's collaborations with his colleges from the Technical University of Lisbon and is based on numerical simulations that can predict wave forces on a given device and the system's resulting motion. Situated on or near the shore, an OWC consists of a chamber with a subsurface opening. The system works by modulating water and airflow as waves come in and out and channel into an electricity-generating turbine. "We found that we could optimize the efficiency of the OWC by making use of the compressibility of air -- something that is not intuitively obvious," Mei says. "It's very exciting."

The Portuguese-planned OWC facility, to be built at the mouth of the Douro River in Porto, will include three columns that together will generate 750 kilowatts -- enough to power 750 homes. For more on the OWC go here or visit the MIT Energy Initiative.