Today's featured Invention Award winner is the ECO-Auger, which accesses tidal energy without harming marine life.
W. Scott Anderson spent the past five decades creating complicated machines for manufacturing, including a lipstick labeler and a plastic-straw maker. So when two years ago the 77-year-old industrial engineer invented a fish-friendly underwater turbine that looks like a giant screw, it seemed a cruel twist of fate that every manufacturer he approached said it was too complex to produce economically. But that didn't stop him.
Inventor: W. Scott Anderson
Time: 5 years
Is It Ready Yet? 1 2 3 4 5
There are a handful of companies using windmill-like turbines to capture the untapped energy in tidal streams, bays and inlets and convert it to electricity. But these projects tend to be huge and expensive, and require permanent installations that can disrupt marine life.
Anderson's ECO-Auger is based on a much different design, enabling it to access energy that regular water turbines can't. Rather than using blades, it produces power when the current spins a drill-shaped device called an auger, which has tapered ends that don't harm fish. Instead of using gears to drive an attached generator, a hydraulic pump in the nosecone pumps high-pressure oil to turn a generator outside the water. The arrangement lets the turbine capture energy in shallow waters, and to tether to bridges and other structures so that the auger is relatively easy to lift out of the water for maintenance. Whereas most bladed turbines need at least 30 feet of water to operate, Anderson's smallest units need only 10.
Anderson had used a revolving horizontal corkscrew to feed plastic to machines in his New Jersey factory and knew that ancient Egyptian farmers used augers to irrigate high ground. To see if a water-driven auger could do the job of conventional turbine blades, he tested an eight-inch plastic prototype in a pool, measured the torque, and ran it in a tank of minnows. When he saw that it worked without affecting the fish, he spent four months in his garage handcrafting a two-foot-diameter polyurethane-and-fiberglass auger that in a test captured 14 percent of the water's energy—not as much as the 25 to 45 percent that huge propeller-driven turbines can get, but Anderson says that percentage will go up as the auger's diameter increases, and for a fraction of the cost.
Recently the inventor bought two cast-aluminum molds to make the first few six-foot-diameter prototypes and has persuaded a plastic-molding company to produce them in segments. If he gets approval, he will have them spinning in inlets around the world this year. In a 10-knot current, each will generate five to seven kilowatts, enough to power four to six homes. Most important, he wants to show that his method of mass production is sound, so he can move on to the full-scale, 16-foot-diameter augers. "We already know it will work," he says. "Now it's just a matter of doing it."
Very nice, We at Florida Institute of Technology have been working on a similar system over the last three years. Our first ocean tests were in June of 2009.
This story of the industry telling an inventor it can't be done reminds me of the story of the man who approached the leading acrylic manufacturers to cast him a sphere of acrylic, to be used in deep diving submersibles. They told him it was impossible, so he educated himself and cast his own, and founded the first company to cast the spheres for the deep sea submersibles.
I think that the second someone says it cant be done, you are on the right track!
This auger looks smooth enough to operate around seaweed.
If seaweed is not a problem, I can show Mr. S. Anderson how to build an auger inside a wire mesh for 1/10 the cost.
Please take a look at a "wire mesh wind turbine" and the "wind and catamaran river turbine" videos on the "Youtube" "generatorblue" channel. I can build an "Auger in a cage" that will only work if it does not trap seaweed.
Imagine a bunch of these in the eastern australian current.
I forget the statistic but I believe the majority of the world's population lives within 50 miles of the coast. That makes this project all the more beautiful.
I think the main issue that has been overlooked with this device is that there is no hard science to prove that tidal devices are not fish friendly. Full scale devices must spin slowly to avoid cavitation and thus are less likely to impact small animals and although there are studies to analyse the impact on marine mammals, such a study for fish has not been considered necessary as yet. Therefore you are building a device for a problem that does not really exist (or has yet to be proven to exist).
With that in mind, cost is key for marine renewable devices and therefore simplicity and survivability are what is required. If manufactures say this device will cost more per kilowatt hour than a conventional turbine then the truth is this device will not be used, especially at any significant scale.
There are possible niches for devices such as this one though, in shallow rivers where the density debris and fish stocks are high. Whether there is a great deal of energy available here, to justify the expense of installation, is another matter.
With a beard that white, how can he fail!!
As non-renewable energy cost go up, and public objection to off shore oil drilling increases, and public objection to coal burning releasing toxic chemicals into the enviroment increases, and public fear of atomic fision reactors slow down or block building of new U-235 / Pu 233 power plants, and public objection to the enviromental damage that building new large scale dam based hydroelectric plants cause increases, small scale non dam based hydroelectric power plants will gain public support. Hydroelectric power generation using streams, rivers, and off shore water flow, will gain public support. Hopefully soon Americans will wake up and start investing in renewable energy like solar panels on building roofs and walls of their homes and businesses, wind farms, and small scale non dam based hydro electric power plants. While this design may not be price competative in today's energy market, as the world uses up the supply of coal, non renewable sources of oil and natural gas, such designs will become increasing competative in cost of generating electric power in US and World energy markets. There was a time when using humans in prisons to generate electric power was viewed as competative. (It is a shame that gyms waste all that energy moving weights when that energy could be used to generate electric power).
I agree alternative sources of energy are a planetary necessity as all social, economic, and environments need to be diverse to avoid instability in the market / ecosystem. However, to call them truly renewable in my opinion is incorrect.
I know this may seem as a pointless definitional debate, however, the difference between the term renewable and non renewable sources of energy in its current use is the difference between magnitudes of environmental damage and the time it takes between the energy to complete its renewable closed loop. All these energies have their costs and loss to the closed loop. Wind turbines kill birds, Tidal energy, changes the local water environment and can effect the ecosystem and natural sediment exchange.
Although I recognize these as necessary evils based on the current lifestyle we built for ourselves, we need to keep our eyes on the holy grail of energy, the sun. The sun is the only external energy source to our ecosystem that can be tapped with out stealing from another closed loop system in our world. Ideally we would want to harvest the energy off world and transport it to earth.
My hopes would be something like a space elevator in the sense the tether would suspend a counterweight which is actually a massive solar panel that obtains energy that would never have reached the earth anyway. Now that will be something!
As to Mr. Anderson I think his work is awesome.
The Openhydro ocean turbine is the only true commercially available turbine.
The inventor whom I have the pleasure of knowing for over ten years completed it with the assistance of the US Navy who tested the final production models.
I recommend that people see the videos which are remarkable!
I cannot say enough about the people who worked on this and what the inventor sacrificed for twenty years to bring this invention to the world.
This is very nice, but we humans love "magic" pills & remedies for our ills.
As Ryan points out well, "renewable" is just a marketing term. Indeed solar & nuclear power are our only sources that do not directly alter stable planet-wide systems.
Since we waste over 50% of all electric power generated, we have a very big, almost free source in funding more energy efficiency across the board. This includes avoiding long transmission waste, which is now abot 7% nationwide.
That loss is directly related to our idea that magic pills, like desert solar, massive wind, even offshore, are long-term solutions. They aren't. One reason is their low power density, whether per acre or per cubic yard.
Burning a gallon of gas generates 35kWHrs of heating. In a vehicle, it gives us only about 1/3 that, because of basic thermodynamics. Yet, it's still quick & easy to transfer large amounts of energy quickly to a power consumer via hydrocarbon fuels.
This is not true for wind, tidal or even current solar. Our sun gives us 1kW/square meter on a sunny day on the surface. That's 3.1MW per square meter, max. Present solar cells are 20% efficient commercially and 40+ efficient in military/space applications. That means present solar panels are higher in power density than any other "renewable" sources.
This is why environmental organizations are coming to support distributed generation (DG), rather than remotely-massed sources that pay a large tax in energy just to accomplish delivery. The numbers for offshore wind, fior instance, are silly, long-term. Tidal is even worse.
But, just as farmers have long used windmills, there are applications that make local sense. It was the Rural Electrification Act of the Great Depression that actually began our US power grid, thus setting the stage for improved economics inland, but increased power losses in transmission as well.
So, low power-density systems aren't our long-term solution, both on engineering & environmental grounds.
One serious limit not mentioned is that almost all the power we unnaturally generate ends up as heat. The radio/TV emissions that radiate into space are lost without any heating effect on Earth. However, long-term, the Earth;'s heat balance between Sun & spaces is what's key.
We don't have the ability to generate as much power as we please. This is why solar arrays in space are largely meaningless. The Earth receives in a day, from sunlight, 24 years of all the energy our societies now consume. Human structures now cover over 2% of all land, and we've removed forests, caused sea ice melt, etc. All this shows up as a net of about 1/2 Watt per square meter of imbalance today, toward heating the entire Earth. That imbalance cannot be allowed to increase. It should even be reduced.
So unnatural power sources must be considered in this light, even if we do improve on our profligate waste of power. There are 3 natural power sources: solar, gravitational (tides, falls) & geothermal, which is actually nuclear, due to radioactive decay of elements in Earth's core. Wind is derived from solar input at low efficiency, and our machinery derives power from wind at low efficiency, but with vast land consumption. Currents are also derived from solar input, and power from it and t Tides is again derived inefficiently by us.
So, while an environmentally better way to derive small amounts of power from water currents is nice, it will solve nothing, as far as the long-term future for Earth and its residents is concerned. In other words, it's not one of the "magic" pills we would need.
So, our future more clearly becomes one of environmentally sane solar electric (or water heating) on existing structures we've now covered so much land with. Current US power can be supplied by a 200km-square solar array in our desert, but that incurs large transmission losses and is vulnerable to various realities & threats. This is why the far larger, localized area of structural roofs is so valuable -- DG resolves transmission losses, some of the heat balance (as Secretary Chu advised in painting roofs white), and builds in grid robustmness.
With solar power comes the need for diurnal storage, and that's being effectively addressed because it relates directly to vehicular storage needs.
So the support for our energy future has 3 legs: efficiency, DG and safe nuclear power. That last one can be examined here (and in ORNL documents)...
But, suffice to say, it's been around for 40 years and was designed by Manhattan Project folks who knew the way we currently do reactors was not the way civilian power should be produced. What we do now was designed to make bombs, not safe power.
Dr. A. Cannara
need help. I read an article on under sea power generation but cant find article again. picture of some sort of large tank under sea, yellow i believe. if u know what it is post in comment plese.