As far as renewable energy goes, hydropower is old news. Really old news. (In fact, the first known use of the water wheel, for milling grain, goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks in the 3rd and 1st century A.D.) Recently however, new innovations in small, scalable hydrokinetic devices have opened up new applications for hydropower, beyond dams and run-of-river generating facilities.

Hydrovolts is a Seattle-based start-up with a patented floating water turbine called the Flipwing. Recently, the company received an initial investment of $250,000 from DLZ Corp., a U.S.-based civil engineering firm that has obtained permits and a power purchase agreement to develop a 10 MW hydrokinetic power project on the 14-km Chilla Canal in northern India. This initial investment will fund the manufacture of a prototype 25 kW hydrokinetic turbine to be tested by DLZ.  Under a non-binding letter of intent between the parties, if this demonstration period should prove successful, DLZ could potentially order an additional 400 turbines, putting around $20 million in Hydrovolts’ pocket.

The Hydrovolts Flipwing floating turbine works like a submerged paddlewheel. The device is tethered and/or anchored, and electricity generated by the turbine is sent to shore by a power cable linked to the tether. No significant site preparation is needed and, according to Hydrovolts, the device is also fish-friendly, as its paddlewheel blades actually turn slower than the water current, allowing fish to swim around or through it.  Because this turbine generates electricity from water currents as slow as 1 m/sec (2 knots), Hydrovolts believes there is a “nearly limitless domestic and international market” for the device.

In order to get a feel for what the new deal with DLZ Corp. could mean for this up and coming Seattle cleantech company, we interviewed Burt Hammer, CEO of Hydrovolts.

Flipwing out of water
image via Hydrovolts

EarthTechling (ET): Hydrovolts has recently received investment funds to construct a 25 kW version of the Flipwing turbine for the DLZ Corp., which plans to develop hydrokinetic power in the Chilla Canal of India. Why did DLZ turn to you?

Burt Hammer (BH): At the same time that Hydrovolts was successfully demonstrating our prototype Flipwing turbine in a canal in the Yakima River Valley in July, DLZ was shopping the world for a turbine supplier to meet the needs of their Chilla Canal hydropower project. Fortunately, DLZ became aware of our prototype success and contacted us to learn more. We invited them to Seattle to meet the Hydrovolts team, spin the turbine, do a bit of salmon fishing, and ultimately decide the partnership is a good fit.

ET: What could the Hydrovolts Flipwing turbine mean for the developing world?

BH: The Flipwing turbine will enable the generation of clean, affordable and easy-to-install distributed renewable energy – at the household level – to millions of places where people have no energy. In India alone, more than 400 million people have no electricity and a huge number of them live near canals.  Creating clean electricity in these rural areas will bring light and new methods of communications to millions of people for the first time.

Flipwing in water
image via Hydrovolts

ET: Your company was chosen as a “Best Investment Opportunity” by both the Northwest Entrepreneurs First Look Forum and the ZINO Society’s Green Investment Forum. Have investment funds always been forthcoming for Hydrovolts? Or are there hurdles you’ve had to overcome?

BH: As many start ups in the industry experienced, 2009 was a slow year for raising money; fortunately Hydrovolts offset the downturn by winning contests with cash prizes.  The ZINO Society prize of $50,000 provided the necessary funds to build and demonstrate our large prototype, which led to additional investment and further opportunities.

Right now, the main hurdle we have to overcome is lack of awareness; no one has ever seen a floating turbine in a canal. So, it’s up to the Hydrovolts team to show investors and interested parties that our technology is viable, scalable and a key piece to the future of clean and renewable energy. DLZ recognized this and provided us with the critical capital to take the next steps.

ET: It has been mentioned that the Hydrovolts Flipwing can be used in conjunction with wastewater treatment plants. Have municipalities been receptive to this idea?

Chilla Canal, India
image via Hydrovolts

BH: We have done an informal polling across the U.S. of wastewater treatment plants and found that about one-third have good locations in their plants for Flipwing turbines. There are about 26,000 publicly owned treatment plants in the country, meaning there’s a potential market of about 8,000 sites.

Additionally, there are numerous drinking water treatment plants and other facilities that discharge a lot of water for cooling or industrial processing, which could all potentially integrate Hydrovolts technology into their systems. Essentially, if a canal is at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep and flows at fast walking speed, the Flipwing turbine can generate renewable energy.

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