How Hydrovolts’ $250k Development Deal Could Turn into a $20M Contract and Global Market

9/13/10

Hydrovolts has scored an investment deal that looks small at first blush, but could take the cleantech startup to the next level. The Seattle-based company, which develops small hydropower turbines that generate renewable energy from small streams and canals, last week received a $250,000 investment from civil engineering firm DLZ Corp. to develop prototype turbine for the company. DLZ plans to use the 25kW hydrokinetic turbine on the 14-km Chilla Canal in northern India.

While $250,000 may sound like small potatoes for a cleantech company—or even a tech startup, for that matter—CEO Burt Hamner says this deal, the first for Hydrovolts, is a big opportunity. The investment, in fact, could lead to an estimated $20 million in product orders down the line.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for small company,” he says. “This is our first deal and our first sale, and it has potential for being $20 million. The customer is investing $250,000 to get the first machine built specifically for his application.”

The U.S.-based DLZ, which reports annual revenues of more than $100 million, recently obtained permits to develop a 10 Megawatt hydrokinetic power project on the Chilla Canal, which feeds water into a traditional hydropower plant on the Ganges River. If Hydrovolts’ prototype turbine works as planned, DLZ says it intends to order another 400 just like it (though this agreement is not binding).

Hydrovolts first appeared on our cleantech radar in May 2009, when we spoke with Hamner about his invention—the “flipwing” turbine—one that he hopes will revolutionize the industry. Hamner’s turbine, which is designed to fit in flowing waterways such as canals, rivers, and even wastewater channels, operates like a submergered paddle wheel turbine—only it’s much more efficient. Here’s how they work: Flowing water pushes each blade from the front of the turbine back, as the “paddles” go around, they flip. This simple change reduces drag, and increases the ability to harness the renewable power generated. (See the flipwing turbine in action in the video below).

The floating turbines are also easy to deploy—all you have to do is drop them in the water and tether or anchor them. The electricity generated by the turbine is then sent to shore by a power cable. And because the wheel blades turn slower than the water current, the turbines are designed to be safe for fish, who can either swim around them or through them.

The turbines are small, built in modules that can be shipped and assembled on site, and generate renewable energy from water currents at rates as slow as 1 meter per second. This, according to Hydrovolts, makes the technology an inexpensive and viable option for many man-made canals and waterways in the U.S. and abroad. It also sets them apart from the competition—and the DLZ investment is proof, Hamner says.

“There have been perhaps a dozen entrepreneurs in the last 20 years who have or actually are trying to make turbines for canals, but there is only one really significant competitor to us. It is a … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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