Hydrokinetic Turbine Runs On The Mississippi

You don’t need a giant, environment-wrecking dam to capture the energy of a river. That’s the premise Free Flow Power is trying to build its business on, and the company said it now has a project up and running on the Mississippi River that it believes demonstrates the potential of hydrokinetic generation.

Free Flow’s low-key announcement – picked up by media in Boston, where the company has one of three U.S. offices – said it began operating the turbine on June 20 at Plaquemine, La., just south of Baton Rouge. So far, so good, the company said. “The equipment is handling the Mississippi River conditions without power interruptions or degradation,” noted Ed Lovelace, Free Flow chief technology officer.

hydrokenetic power, Mississippi River, Free Flow Power

image via Free Flow Power

Free Flow said the turbine is installed on a research surface platform that includes monitoring equipment that measures stream velocity, electrical current and voltage. “Performance to date has been consistent with our design predictions, which makes it very competitive with published data on similar devices being developed around the world,” Lovelace said.

hydrokenetic power, Free Flow Power, Mississippi River

image via Free Flow Power

A big issue unaddressed in Free Flow’s announcement is the environmental impact of its submergible turbine, which, as shown in the picture above, looks like a giant airplane jet engine. Despite creating clean power, large-scale, conventional hydropower – AKA, dams – is frowned upon by environmentalists due to its profound impact on river ecology. But there’s hope for smaller-scale hydrokinetic technology: Last fall we wrote about a turbine installed on the Yukon River near the village of Eagle, Alaska, that was apparently living up to its claim of being low-impact.

On its website, Free Flow says it has has permits for more than two dozen projects on the lower Mississippi River between Kentucky and Louisiana that it’s seeking licensing on. Those projects would generate 3,303 megawatts, the company said. An additional 43 projects in the preliminary permitting stage could produce up to 5,371 MW.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.