The Times Obituary for A.N.Walton Bott OBE
9th July 1996
Alfred Noel Walton Bott, OBE, civil and electrical engineer, died on June 7th, aged 88 years old. He was born on December 9, 1907.
Noel Bott may rightly be regarded as the father of wave energy. After working on hydroelectric power in Scotland in the 1930s, he went to Mauritius in the early 1950s to establish an electricity board and cecame convinced that the Island could gain it’s electricity by capturing the energy of waves. He started to study the subject and discovered what he called ‘a neglected corner of natural science’. Tidal power had been explored and employed but comparatively little had been done about the waves.
Bott decided to investigate the subject and with funds provided by the Ministry of Overseas Development (now a section of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office) and practical help from the Hydraulics Research Station at Wallingford, Oxfordshire and the Crown Agents, he devised a scheme to capture the energy on the shore. It became the foundation for the most successful wave energy project so far, which was developed by Norway at a site near Bergen, and has become the first to gain commercial success by sales to overseas customers.
Francis Alfred Noel Walton Bott attended Mundella Grammar School, where he was Head Boy. He studied engineering at Nottingham University and during WWII worked in Scotland with the hydroelectric authority, in research and administration. He arrived in Mauritius in 1953 and spent the next twenty years working on his theories of wave energy.
The most significant moment for Bott came in 1975 when he presented a paper to a distinguished audience at The Royal Society of Arts giving an account of the research that he had done. This encompassed a discussion of wave power drawing on the extensive study that he had carried out, much of which was new to the scientists in his audience for whom a study of sea waves was an esoteric branch of physics. His paper became a seminal work for everyone engaged in the British Government’s wave energy programme, which was started a year later in April 1976.
Bott was a prominent figure at all the conferences which followed, gaining immediate respect with his clear and forceful contributions. To friends he always insisted that he would not die until he had seen wave energy working. He got his way. In December 1986 he flew to Bergen with a party invited by the Norwegians.
They had built a wave energy plant called Tapchan from the English words TAPered CHANnel. It was an upward sloping, tapered, concrete slope which led the waves from the sea to a reservoir at the top of the cliff, where they entered a man-made resevoir. They were then released back into the sea through the only exit-a Kaplan turbine coupled to a generator.
The scheme for Mauritius had been slightly different; it took advantage of a fringing reef off the coast of the island and the Bott plan was to join it to the shore by cross-bunds (walls at right angles to the reef which enclosed the water in a huge lagoon) at each end. The lagoon of water would be captured from the waves as they overtopped the reef. The water would be released through openings in the walls, driving turbo-generators as it went.
Bott was ecstatic about the Norwegian scheme. He was indifferent to the cold, to the icy water thrown up by the Tapchan, along with the rocks which the waves were lifting from the seabed, and both of which were falling around him. ‘It’s Mauritius,’ he cried, meaning that it was a development of the scheme which he had devised for the British colony and which, like every other wave energy scheme presented to the parsimonious British governments, foundered for lack of support.
Bott was widely honoured by his fellow engineers. He was elected a member of The Royal Institution in 1973 and became a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. He was also a member of Civil Engineers and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and of The Institution of Electrical Engineers. He was appointed OBE in 1965 for his work as a consulting engineer with the Crown Agents.
He was married to Jessie Jenkins MacFarlane, who predeceased him, and is survived by their two daughters.