Hydrokinetic generator has worldwide implicationsWritten by Saige Albert
Cody – With energy available in flowing waters in irrigation canals across the United States and around the world, Meeteetse native Tony Griffin came up with a novel invention to harness that energy and convert it to electricity.
“Growing up farming and ranching, electricity was one of the biggest costs, and it’s one that you really have no control over,” says Griffin. “We patented a paddle-wheel driven machine that will turn a generator, irrigation pump or whatever you want to run with water power.”
Griffin says he tried to figure out a way to harness the energy of water for a long time.
“I messed with a lot of prototypes,” he comments. “It is easy to make a paddle wheel and make it turn things, but it is problematic in the maintenance.”
Conventional methods, which use chains and sprockets or belts and pulleys, are unable to withstand the aquatic environment, but Griffin realized that utilizing a strong, waterproof, permanently lubricated system, he could develop a system to harness the energy from flowing water in irrigation canals.
“So we started making prototypes, and they worked,” he mentions.
From the beginning
“The very first was around 2007,” says Griffin, remembering his initial design, which used a power takeoff (PTO) shaft that turned a generator.
Griffin mentions, however, that when utilizing a generator, it is necessary that the rotations per minute (RPMs) of the shaft be constant, which requires that the water flow be regulated.
“We had two different models and ran those,” he says, “but we aren’t going to consider them because they were really heavy, really expensive and have to be run at a certain RPM.”
With his latest design, the permanent magnet generator runs as fast as the water flows and is much lighter and more economically feasible.
How it works
“The very old-fashioned paddle wheel was used in rivers many years ago, and that was, at the time, the only way that farmers could grind their grain – by using the force of water flowing down rivers and streams,” explains managing director of Tecnolog s.a. Edgar Gerber. “Tony built a more efficient way to use a paddle wheel. That is basically all it is – a paddle wheel turning by the force of the stream.”
Gerber also explains that the system is hydrokinetic, rather than the commonly used hydroelectric.
“Hydroelectric means there must be a drop of water,” he continues. “Kinetic means force. Hydrokinetic is using the force of flowing water. This is why Tony’s technology is different, and that is the novelty of this situation.”
In Griffin’s generator, as water spins the paddles, a rotor with a permanent magnet spins around a stator, called a smart drive, creating wild alternating current (AC) electricity, or electricity without a ground.
“We rectify the electricity to DC (direct current) so we can control it,” says Griffin. “Wild AC has to be controlled and the best way to do that is to rectify it to DC.”
Additionally, by transmitting electricity in the DC form, Griffin notes that less is lost in transmission. After transport, the electricity is turned back into AC using an inverter.
The faster the wheel turns, the more electric generation is possible, within certain limits. The current model produces 400 volts of AC electricity.
“We use the same generator they use for wind in a different way,” says Griffin. “We know that it doesn’t produce below five RPMs or above about 1,700 RPMs because the magnet goes by too fast to saturate the coil.”
While the basic design of Griffin’s generator is set, he notes that they will continue to attempt to improve the generator, evaluating aspects such as paddle design and the number of smart drives that system utilizes.
“The smart drives are really powerful, especially when we rewire them,” he adds. “We also invented a way to stack them.”
The Griffins also decided to patent the system.
While Griffin initially hoped to utilize his generators on U.S. irrigation canals with the potential to power center pivot or sprinkler systems, he has found that regulatory hurdles have proven difficult.
Griffin’s wife Amanda says, “The Federal Energy Reserve Commission has said that irrigation canals are exempt from a lot of regulations, but you have to apply for an exemption.”
She adds that the necessary documentation for an exemption includes mapping and drawings that can be expensive to obtain and would have to be done through irrigation districts, because they own the canals.
“In other systems, they have to clean the water, pipe it and move the water through a turbine, but our system isn’t doing anything to the water, and we aren’t even using their structure,” Amanda explains. “It’s been frustrating.”
With the hydrokinetic generator ready to be tested and used, Gerber says that he already has permissions to install the systems in irrigation canals in Peru.
“Peru is one of the very few countries in the world where we do not have the state involved in avoiding development,” Gerber says. “We don’t have all kinds of permits and regulations.”
Gerber says that the water is country- or state-owned in Peru, and the authorization to use water flowing in canals is all that is needed. The only conditions are that they do not overflow, or waste, the water, and that the resource isn’t polluted.
“Other than that, we have permission to do whatever we want with it,” Gerber says.
As a result, Griffin’s latest generator will be shipped to Peru to be installed in their canals. He has also allowed Gerber’s company the rights to use his patent to build more generators.
The implications of supplying electricity to small villages that have never had power before extend beyond just turning on the lights, and Gerber explains that Griffin’s technology has incredible potential to improve the quality of life for the people of rural Peru.
“There are other applications that are a consequence of electricity,” says Gerber. “One is refrigeration. Refrigeration is very important for food preservation, but also for medical purposes – you can store medicines that require refrigeration.”
Griffin also mentions that by bringing power to hospitals, numerous lives could be saved in the country each year.
“Another very important item is education,” Gerber adds, noting that with satellite technology, education is readily available. “If you have no power, you have no satellites, and no education.”
Information transfer, such as news and information about Peru, can also be shared more readily by satellite, thus connecting the country’s rural communities to information that is not otherwise readily available.
With the installation of Griffin’s hydrokinetic generators in Peru’s irrigation system, the advantages seem endless.
Gerber emphasizes, “Electricity brings a lot of benefits.”
Technolog s.a. carries power generation history
Lima, Peru – Edgar Gerber, managing director of Tecnolog s.a., stumbled on Tony Griffin’s hydrokinetic generator when he was surfing the Internet, saying, “It was by accident, really.”
But the company has its roots in power generation.
“We’ve been a power generation business for 66 years,” says Gerber. “We manufacture boilers – from small to very large.”
He explains that their boilers utilize steam to drive turbines, which turn a generator to generate power, and they serve a number of very large customers around the world, including General Electric. Their boilers generate as much as 30 megawatts or more.
“We have been in the power generation business for a long time, and we see a very good possibility of generating power using irrigation canals that we presently are using only to irrigate,” Gerber mentions. “The potential for these canals is enormous.”