During the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Workshop on Additive Manufacturing for Civil Infrastructure Design, Dr. Mo Ehsani, a structural engineer and the founder of QuakeWrap, Inc., debuted a bold idea that could potentially be a sustainable solution for areas with a coral bleaching crisis such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Ehsani’s proposal is to use his company’s continuously manufactured InfinitPipe® to produce a durable, lightweight, single-piece pipe that is long enough to continually feed cooler water from nearby greater depths to heat-stressed coral in shallow water.  Back in 2013, QuakeWrap received a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant from the NSF to develop the pipe.

The system uses a floating Wave Energy Converter (WEC) to power the pumps needed to maintain a constant flow of cool water. The system uses clean, renewable, infinite sources — nearby deeper sea water as the coolant, and wave motion from the surface for the pump electricity. The result is an environmentally sustainable solution requiring minimal on-site disruption or daily maintenance.

“The WEC uses the wave energy either above or below the surface to generate the electricity required to operate the water pump,” Ehsani says. “You can make the pipe as long as is needed to reach the coolest water to pump back to the stressed coral,” he says.

As Ehsani explains, conventional pipes are made with solid walls in short segments that are joined together in the field. The walls of InfinitPipe are made of a lightweight honeycomb core with carbon fiber as skin reinforcement. This reduces the weight of the pipe to nearly 10 percent of conventional pipes. Ehsani believes these factors make his composite pipe a more viable solution than traditional ones.

“Conventional pipes are very thick and very heavy,” Ehsani explains. “If you have these massive pipes that you try to bring onsite and try to put them together in the middle of the ocean, it’s undoable. Even if you find a way to do it, it would be cost prohibitive.”

He anticipates that critics of his proposal will point to the acidification and high temperatures of shallow water as potential drawbacks to implementation.

“My belief is that acidification of the shallow water is because you have a smaller volume of water, so the presence of CO2 in the air is going to have an adverse effect over [those areas],” Ehsani says. “If you go further out in the ocean where the water is deeper, we might not have those issues.”