Underwater Electric Kites

By John Weier

Hydroelectric turbines would be a terrific form of carbon-free, renewable energy—if they weren’t encased in dams that devastate fish populations, change the course of rivers, and flood untold acres of arable land. Fortunately, innovators such as Swiss-born inventor Philippe Vauthier have been busy trying to separate turbines from dams and have developed a new class of stand-alone, underwater generators that could be powering homes within a year.

Vauthier’s invention, dubbed the Underwater Electric Kite, resembles two exhaust fans stuck together and comes in several sizes, the smallest being eight feet tall. The turbine is tethered to a river bed or the sea floor, then suspended in a current like a balloon in a strong wind. As the current spins the device’s two blades, their motion is converted into electricity by an internal generator.

Individually, these free-flow turbines generate nowhere near the same amount of power as those in, say, Hoover Dam. But the smaller turbines could be peppered across waterways to achieve similar results. The reason: a dam sits alone in a single place, so it captures a current only once. A number of stand-alone turbines, on the other hand, could be positioned downstream from each other to capture the same current multiple times. In the Yukon River, for instance, where Vauthier is installing his first commercial machine next year, upwards of 20 turbines could be stationed along a 180-meter span and still run efficiently. Each turbine would power 40 homes.

Vauthier’s turbine is not the only one being put into operation. The so-called helical turbine, developed by Northeastern University’s Alexander Gorlov and resembling the business end of a cake mixer, is scheduled for installation in South Korea. Later this year, the British firm Marine Current Turbines Ltd. plans to erect a twin- propeller turbine off the coast of Northern Ireland, where it will tap the power of tides.

One concern is whether the turbines will injure fish. While scant research has addressed this question, Vauthier says nets will be erected to keep fish away from the turbines. If the fish make it past the nets, he believes, they will be able to maneuver between the blades. “Fish are not stupid,” Vauthier said. “Generally, they swim on the side of the river away from the turbine.”

Photo: ©Marine Current Turbines TM Ltd

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6 Comments

  • Joe Faust January 10, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Experimenters are welcome.

    Reply

  • TONY SPINA May 17, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I am interested in using a turbime to help power my home. I live on a canal in Southwest Florida. I have a high tide and a low tide that cycles four times a day. I would like to know if this system will work for me?

    Thanks Tony

    Reply

  • Jonah May 22, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Hey Tony,

    I have a few things you might like to consider for this model and in general:

    How deep is the canal?
    Do you have the proper documentation to install a generator in the canal?
    Do you just want this to back up your general grid or do you want it for a specific piece of equipment?
    Have you considered using batteries to store the energy (as the generator would only be working 4 times a day, if you get bi-directional blades)

    I would suggest going with a sea-bottom model, as this model (in the picture) might interfere with sailors/boaters

    Cheers,

    Jonah

    Reply

  • Mauricio Pardo June 20, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    we are involved in dealing with few goverment officials in Latin America about the possibility of installing some of your units. Presently we are considering 4 other conpanies and your was found in a government web site. What is the production capacity of your equipment? We need to choose 4 to 5 suppliers for a project in South America. It is a major undertaking. It involves 3 phases and a total of 480 mW to be generated over 7 years. We have to use ocean current, ocean waves and river currents.

    Reply

  • Fedja February 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    Hey Tony,

    I’m studying Sustainable energy technology at the Eindhoven Technical University. Currently I’m working on a project where we have to provide sustainable energy for a small city (180 residents) The city is in close proximity of the Gelderse Ijssel river in Netherlands (low speed and no head). I was wondering is it possible to use this system there? Is this system already commercially available? Is there more technical data of this system. Can you suggest another system if not.

    Thank you in advance,

    kind regards,
    Fedja Zdrnja

    Reply

    • Diederik April 2, 2013 at 1:25 am

      Hey Fedja,

      Can you give me answers if this kind of turbines where usefull in your research. I’m doing a research for the region Hoeksche Waard close by to Dordrecht. I’m curious if this turbines could contribute to the amount of produced sustainable energy for the region.

      Thank you in advance,

      Diederik Kroezen

      Reply

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