Saturday, March 25, 2006

Inventor's generator fails to make waves with power firm


NORMA CONNOLLY


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Inventor Lucien Gambarota explains the workings of his Motorwave electricity generator. Picture by David Wong

Electricity company CLP Power said it would have to see more conclusive testing of a wave-powered electricity generator created by a Hong Kong-based inventor before it would consider investing in it.

French inventor Lucien Gambarota and University of Hong Kong mechanical engineering researchers gave the power company a preview of their machine, called the Motorwave, which they say can produce electricity for as little as one cent per kilowatt.

Mr Gambarota is testing the machinery off Po Toi island. His research suffered a serious setback earlier this year when a $100,000 prototype went missing less than 24 hours after he set it up in the sea off the island.

Ngan Chi-cheung, innovation architect of the CLP Research Institute, who watched Mr Gambarota's presentation in a classroom at the university yesterday, said: "We monitor this type of technology. At the moment there is not enough information to make any decision."

He said CLP was finding suitable sites to place existing and proven generating technology, such as wind turbines. "That type of technology is more developed and mature," he said.

Hong Kong Electric launched Hong Kong's first wind-powered electricity turbine generator on Lamma Island this year, and CLP says it is looking at other potential sites for wind turbines.

Mr Gambarota, 47, who believes his last stainless steel and white polyfoam prototype may have been stolen by mainland boatmen, said his latest model is "not as attractive as the last one, so no one will want to take it".

The new model, made of blue plastic barrels and plain steel, has been in place off Po Toi for two weeks, but rough seas have made it difficult to field-test the machine. He and a group of volunteers plan to test it again this weekend.

The inventor, who has put his own money into developing the equipment, said he hoped he would receive government funding to help carry out the work, which he says can provide the city with safe, clean, sustainable power.

He hopes the Motorwave can provide electricity and clean drinking water to the tiny population of about 20 on Po Toi, who get their power from a diesel generator.

Mr Gambarota said the technology was simple and easy to build. "Any country can build this. If you can build a bicycle, you can build this, making it affordable in third-world countries."