MendoCoastCurrent, November 16, 2009
For centuries humanity has gazed at the sea, rivers and rambling brooks in awe of water currents and the energy potential they hold. With increasingly critical demand for safe renewable energy solutions, our ability to capture water power has been an abstruse, distant choice for mitigating our dependence on fossil fuels.
Now with Peak Oil and Climate Change concerns igniting our interest in renewable energies, our brightest, most creative thinkers the world-over turn their attention and intention toward creating efficient, sustainable and safe renewable energy capture devices. It’s understood best bets for generating constant electricity straddle natural energy sources: the sun, the wind and the tides, with the energy captured from water and the tides currently garnering longest odds.
Water power, known more formally as hydrokinetic energy, is based on hydro, meaning water, and kinetic with roots in Greek, κίνηση, or kinesis, meaning motion. The motion of water and study of it includes capturing its power. At the heart of this energy is spinning and flowing, ironically a strikingly dissimilar concept from capture.
Whether extracted, converted, captured or transformed, hydrokinetic energy may well be the ‘holy grail’ of renewable energy, especially when considering the math:
- ‘One foot of tidal change, when funneled through the natural orifices of the coastal inlets, has the potential to generate pure, clean, green energy and all with absolutely no carbon footprint.’
- Thus, as an example, one Florida inlet having an average tidal change between 2” up to 1’ carries 75 trillion Cu-Ft of fast moving water every tide.
Furthermore, hydrokinetic energy offers consistent yields and potentials unknown and possibly undiscoverable from other naturally-sourced energy. Wind power faces insufficient, constant wind to return the capital investment, even with government subsidies, and robust solar energy opportunities are mostly located in far, off grid locales.
Traditional hydrokinetic solutions include tidal turbines, wave buoys, wave hubs, tethered ocean, buoyant/flexible wave snakes and tidal stream machines that generate electricity yet also create gross negative impacts on marine wildlife and the environment.
These solutions must overcome fundamental issues like potential fish or turtle kill, corrosion and tethering issues, repair distance and processes, long-term durability in water/weather, noise pollution and super expensive grid connections that are also environmentally damaging.
Seems that when we embrace and mimic nature in creating organically-derived energy capture tools, the harmonious capacity of the design inherently overcomes the problems of other inelegant hydrokinetic systems.
Over the last two years, W. S. “Scotty” Anderson, Jr. may have either consciously or unconsciously designed along these lines as he victoriously led his team to invent and build the ECO-Auger™. You’ll find information on this and other cool inventions at Anderson’s laboratory, www.smartproductinnovations.com.
As a lifelong fisherman, Anderson designed his hydrokinetic system to convert energy from moving water, delivering renewable, sustainable energy, while completely safe for fish and marine wildlife.
The tapered helix permits fish and other marine life to pass through with absolutely no sharp edges to injure them. Even turtles can swim through or are gently pushed aside as the ECO-Auger generally rotates under 100 rpm. The tapered design also permits debris to pass.
First thoughts of the ECO-Auger came to Anderson in 2008 as he was fishing the waters of the fast-moving Kenai River in Alaska. His mind focused on capturing the river’s energy; here are his notes: “I got the vision of a screw turning in the river current and generating electricity on the river bank. The screw would turn a flexible shaft and drive an electric generator outside the water.”
The ECO-Auger is a double-helix, auger-shaped spinner regulated by the size of the radius and the strength of the water current. “It’s easy to array, bi-directional and housed in an individual, streamlined single form,” Anderson points out.
Anderson originally envisioned the ECO-Auger “simply installed under bridges between the arches of bridges, housed on the ECO-Sled, a sort of a pontoon boat like a floating dry-dock.” This permits easy launch and retrieval for maintenance or if/when the ice gets too thick.
Over the next year Anderson built and tested prototypes, refining his hydrokinetic system completely from U.S. materials, requiring that each generation of the ECO-Auger be “very reasonable to build, deploy, easy to service and inexpensive to array.”
In describing his invention, Anderson said, “the ECO-Auger does not have blades, straight or twisted like other devices, and is environmentally-friendly to all marine wildlife. The fish are not harmed and swim through the organic design. With no electrical generation under or in water, there also is no danger to transmitting vibrations or naval sonar to whales and dolphins.”
This novel approach is so very different to existing technology. So very different and innovative that in late September 2009 Anderson’s team won First Place in the ConocoPhillips Energy Prize, a joint initiative of ConocoPhillips and Penn State University recognizing new ideas and original, actionable solutions that help improve the way the US develops and uses energy.
The prize-winning ECO-Auger was described as “a hydrokinetic energy capturing device that converts moving water from river and ocean currents to renewable electric energy using the constant hydraulic pressure and storage to maintain continuous energy output regardless of tidal current strength.”
How the ECO-Auger Works:
The ECO-Auger rotates in either direction from the moving water and current and is directly transferred through planetary gears to a high-pressure hydraulic pump located in the machine’s nose cone. The nose cone, which is physically tethered to bridges by cables, or anchored in moving water, stabilizes the torque generated from the rotation and transfers it to a hydraulic pump. The pump supplies variable volumes of high-pressure fluid at controlled, set pressure, regardless of the direction or speed of rotations. This pressure turns an oil-driven electric generator that delivers stable electrical current. Thus, constant power is generated through the ECO-Auger’s unique hydraulic circuit.
As the ECO-Auger rotates, the high-pressure oil flows through check valves to an array of standard air oil accumulators that are connected directly in line to the oil motor driving the electric generator. The oil to the electric generator is sized below the maximum gallons per minute of the ECO-Auger’s hydraulic pump, allowing the pumped oil to be supplied to the motor, while the excess volume is stored in the accumulator. A computer-monitored storage system assures maximum energy stability, storing energy and supplying the generators during the slow down of tidal flow.
Guide for Installation Opportunities:
Since the ECO-Auger is bi-directional, it is well-suited for high velocity, coastal ocean and bay locations. Near the ocean, the generation hydraulic system uses nitrogen-over-oil accumulators to maintain power generation during ebb tides or slack tidal movement under 1 knot (0.5m/s).
Each potential installation of the ECO-Auger is unique, requiring the water velocity and profile or depth of the installed area to be fully studied and documented. Anderson recommends a month-long study to support 30-year energy capture forecasts and projections.
River installations of the ECO-Auger are successful when current is in excess of 3 kts (1.5 meters/sec). The accumulators mentioned above are not required in mono-flow installations and installation reflects this cost savings. With the mono-directional ECO-Auger, electricity can be generated already existing power dams, downstream in any dam outlet, discharge from municipal water treatment facility, cooling water discharge and many river bridge options.
The ECO-Auger in its recent First Place win in the 2009 ConocoPhillips Energy Prize, a joint initiative of ConocoPhillips and Penn State University — won specifically for its new, original idea improving the way the U.S. creates and uses energy.
Anderson and his team are up to this important challenge and set their sights on installing this remarkable fish-friendly, economical, high-yielding hydrokinetic solution in a river, alongside a bridge or coastal inlet near you.