Bombora announces plans to establish European headquarters in Wales

Bombora Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Sam Leighton
Bombora Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Sam Leighton
mWave sits well below the breaking waves and harnesses the pressure of the wave
mWave sits well below the breaking waves and harnesses the pressure of the wave
Waves passing over the mWave squeeze air out of a number of flexible cells contained in the machine - and pump air through a turbine to generate electricity
Waves passing over the mWave squeeze air out of a number of flexible cells contained in the machine - and pump air through a turbine to generate electricity

The leading Australian wave energy outfit Bombora Wave Power has announced that it will significantly expand its European operations by establishing a European headquarters at Pembroke Dock in Wales.

It has also revealed plans to embark on a ground breaking €20 million project to design, manufacture and test its first commercial scale machine in Milford Haven.  So, what wave energy technology will be developed and tested as part of the initiative?  How exactly does it produce wave energy?  What are the key challenges in its development?  And what are the main motivations behind the company's recent expansion into Wales?

A key part of the move will see Bombora preparing to build and test a 1.5 megawatt (MW) version of its innovative mWave device in Pembrokeshire.  Amongst other things, this will involve the sourcing of all key system components, as well as the fabrication and assembly of the main structure and then marine operations for deployment and maintenance off the Pembrokeshire coast.  The organisational expansion will also mean that key staff - including Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Sam Leighton, as well as Chief Technical Officer, Cam Algie - will up sticks and relocate from Australia to Wales as part of efforts to launch the operations and facilitate the transfer of mWave technology.  Bombora has also detailed plans to significantly ramp up its supply chain and recruitment efforts throughout the weeks leading up to the Christmas season - as the operations in Pembrokeshire move towards becoming fully operational.  At this stage, Bombora is also undertaking in-depth discussions with local bodies including Marine Energy Wales - as well as the Milford Haven Port Authority - to finalise deals relating to the construction and test sites.

Amongst other reasons, the Australian outfit was particularly attracted to West Wales because of the opportunity it offered to access the state of the art Marine Energy Wales developed Marine Energy Test Area (META) in Pembrokeshire, Wales.  In addition to possessing the capacity to house several wave and tidal energy developers at the same time, the Area also provides interested companies with access to a novel exposed ocean testing area.

As Sam Leighton explains, the Bombora mWave device is a fully submerged wave energy converter - consisting of a large concrete structure covered with what he describes as 'robust' membranes.  Waves passing over the mWave squeeze air out of a number of flexible cells contained in the machine - and pump air through a turbine to generate electricity.

"Most wave energy developers are using the surge of the wave to generate power, however, the mWave sits well below the breaking waves and harnesses the pressure of the wave," says Leighton.

For Leighton, the key advantage of the mWave device is the fact that it is a 'large, low cost structure designed to produce renewable power at an acceptable cost.'  In his view, this attribute is of particular importance because the production of electricity at a competitive price is 'one of the key challenges facing all marine energy developers.'

"Another challenge is survivability in a very harsh environment.  Positioned well below the ocean's surface, the mWave is unique, as it is provides good protection from the destructive waves that occur during winter storms," he says.

In recent years, Bombora has completed a small scale tank testing program, as well as a two year test of a 'part scale' mWave device - both of which Leighton reveals have 'been successful and confirmed the system operation.'

"We now need to confirm the mWave's performance at large scale - and this is an expensive undertaking.  One of the biggest challenges facing Bombora, as well as the industry as a whole, is the financing of large scale ocean trials.  Wales offers us a good pathway to address this key issue," he adds.

Looking ahead, Leighton confirms that the company has already put in place a comprehensive strategy for the future commercial development of the mWave device - and continues to investigate a number of key markets and applications.  As part of this ongoing process, he reveals that the main aim of the trial carried out in Pembrokeshire is to 'validate the mWave technology and provide Bombora with the confidence to move forward with its commercialisation plans.'

"Bombora is currently investigating a range of sites for this commercial roll out - both in Europe and Australia.  The final markets selected for the first commercial projects will need to offer a commercial return for their investors and this will likely require special financial support packages for these projects," he says.

As well as working intensively on the core project in Wales, Bombora has also revealed its plans to continue with development of other sites it describes as suitable for 'multi device commercial trials.'  These include an ongoing initiative in Peniche, Portugal - viewed as a prime location for the mWave - where the company is currently well along the road to securing administrative consent for site development and operations.

Moving forward, Leighton's believes that the prospects for the future growth of the Welsh wave energy sector are very buoyant - and he reveals that the chief advantage of ramping up Bombora's operations in the country is the fact that it provides the company with what he describes as a 'great opportunity to commercialise technology.'

"The European Union has provided structural funds to accelerate the marine energy industry across Wales and this is helping create a great industry network to grow our business. Apart from the funding, Wales has great supply chain capability backed up with good port and testing facilities," he adds.

By Andrew Williams

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