Atmocean, an entrepreneur-led small business, is located in Santa Fe, NM USA. Founder and CEO Philip W. Kithil background is in economics and marketing. An inventor and serial entrepreneur, Kithil develops the technical concepts which are vetted by his small team of engineers and scientists, then if deemed technically feasible, prototypes are fabricated and tested to gain know-how on shortcomings and improvements. Concurrently, Kithil explores the markets and engages his investors for financial support. Almost always, the original idea changes significantly based on the market and technical evaluation.
Soon after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in September 2005, Kithil conceived of a wave-driven ocean pump which would use the large waves produced by high winds to push deep cold water to the surface, reducing hurricane intensity. The Atmocean engineering and science team vetted the idea and while doubting the scale of application, the outcome justified building a prototype which was tested off Corpus Christi, TX in November 2005, then again in December 2005 at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. The second product iteration was developed based on ocean biology: since deep ocean water contains much higher nutrients than sunlit surface waters, the wave-driven pump could upwell these nutrients and enhance biological productivity to increase the ocean’s natural absorption of CO2. To develop this product, Kithil founded Atmocean, Inc. In January 2006.
During this period, climate change from CO2 emissions was becoming better documented and various economic attempts made to “put a price on carbon” such as seen in the Kyoto Protocol. This, rather than hurricane abatement, became the market focus of Atmocean, as markets developed for trading carbon credits such as might be claimed by Atmocean’s wave-driven pump system. However, this market was abandoned as the 2009 UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen failed to extend and renew the Kyoto Protocol. This led Kithil and his team in early 2010 to redesign the wave-driven upwelling system so it could generate electricity. Several energy transmission approaches were reviewed and he and his technical team settled on hydraulic rather than electrical (HVDC). The conceptual approach was submitted to GE’s Ecomagination Challenge in July 2010 and was judged in the top 100 of over 4,000 entries (however did not gain funding). Again, prototypes were developed and a series of tests and design iterations led to the sea trial program at California Polytechnic State University from May-September 2011 which characterized input-output, assessed component durability, and gained data on effects of biofouling.
With full-scale CAD designs nearing completion, Atmocean’s plan is to conduct a series of short term proofing tests then initiate a 3-month 10-pump mini-array environmental impact study under the direction of Rutgers University in Summer 2012. Upon completion, Atmocean plans to extend this to a full-size, 50-pump array to demonstrate “wave-to-wire’ potential. Subsequent plans are for WEST pilot-scale systems to reach market by 2013. The total cost is budgeted at $2.5 million.