Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A real-world test for a "fishy" clean energy technology

A device that works like a fish to harness clean, renewable energy from slow water currents was recently tested in the St. Clair River. This was the first real-world trial for VIVACE, which stands for Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy. Here's some underwater video courtesy of Vortex Hydro Energy, the University of Michigan spin-out company that's commercializing it.

This is some seriously clever technology. Its shape and placement in the water set off "vortex induced vibration," a phenomenon that fish use to help them swim faster in a school. These are the same vibrations that, in wind, toppled the Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1940. Here's more detail on how it works and why it improves upon other hydrokinetic energy technologies.

On Aug. 2, researchers lowered a 10x11x15-foot, two-cylinder array 16 feet deep and 60 feet from shore at Port Huron. The converters ran for two hours.

“We’re very optimistic because it performed well," said Gus Simiao, CEO of Vortex Hydro Energy. "We did have one glitch with one of the subsystems, but it’s something that we can repair. We just have to spend some time redesigning it and testing it in the lab before we go back to the river.”

The team expects to be back at the river in May or June of 2011, when they plan to leave it there for prolonged testing over a couple of months.

Bernitsas is a professor in the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

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