Hydrovolts Hopes to Flip Open Door to Hydropower with Novel Underwater Turbine

5/12/09

Burt Hamner, founder and CEO of the tiny Seattle startup Hydrovolts, has an idea he hopes will revolutionize the hydropower industry.

His invention, the “flip wing” turbine, is still in development. It is a simple and cheap spin on the paddle wheel, but comes with a twist that boosts its power production. The turbine is designed to sit in flowing waterways, such as rivers or canals. The flowing water pushes each blade from the front of the turbine to the back, but unlike a traditional paddle wheel design, the “paddles” on Hamner’s turbine flip open on their way back around, reducing drag and increasing power-harnessing ability.

I met Hamner at Williamson & Associates, a marine engineering company in Ballard that is helping Hamner with all the engineering for his turbines. The Ballard shop contained several giant pieces of marine equipment under construction, including a massive drill designed to test for methane 12,000 feet under the sea. “These guys can make anything work underwater,” Hamner says.

In contrast, Hydrovolt’s prototype turbine is about three feet long and sits against the wall in a conference room. It was built with motors scavenged from a washing machine. Hamner cranks it by hand, and a light bulb attached to the end lights up.

Washington state produces the most hydroelectric power in the nation, and the Columbia River’s Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydropower plant, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But water-generated power on such a scale requires massive amounts of construction and maintenance, Hamner says, and you can’t just go building a dam wherever you feel like it (not to mention the environmental impact).

Hydrovolts’ technology is a little simpler. While the prototype turbine is a few feet long, the working turbines will be about the size of a refrigerator, Hamner says. “It’s a very simple thing,” he said. “I can deliver this in a pickup, and have it in the water and producing power in 30 minutes.”

The fridge-sized turbines will cost $13,000 and will produce on average two to three kilowatts per day, or as much as 20 kilowatts per day, depending on where they are installed, … Next Page »

Rachel Tompa is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. She can be reached at rmtompa@yahoo.com. Follow @

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    I just hope that this innovation will not ruin those bodies of water. Since the effect would be considered after its uses and to think the damage is there already.

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