Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's electric...

UMich develops 'fish technology' to produce electric power from slow water currents.

Yes, really. Michael Bernitsas, a professor in the U-M Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering developed the technology and a prototype device.

"VIVACE is the first known device that could harness energy from most of the water currents around the globe because it works in flows moving slower than 2 knots (about 2 miles per hour.) Most of the Earth's currents are slower than 3 knots. Turbines and water mills need an average of 5 or 6 knots to operate efficiently.

VIVACE stands for Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy. It doesn't depend on waves, tides, turbines or dams. It's a unique hydrokinetic energy system that relies on "vortex induced vibrations.

Here's how VIVACE works: The very presence of the cylinder in the current causes alternating vortices to form above and below the cylinder. The vortices push and pull the passive cylinder up and down on its springs, creating mechanical energy. Then, the machine converts the mechanical energy into electricity.

Bernitsas says VIVACE energy would cost about 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Wind energy costs 6.9 cents a kilowatt hour. Nuclear costs 4.6, and solar power costs between 16 and 48 cents per kilowatt hour depending on the location.

The researchers recently completed a feasibility study that found the device could draw power from the Detroit River. They are working to deploy one for a pilot project there within the 18 months.

This work has been supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the Detroit/Wayne County Port Autrhority, the DTE Energy Foundation, Michigan Universities Commercialization Initiative, and the Link Foundation. The technology is being commercialized through Bernitsas' company, Vortex Hydro Energy."

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