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Central Washington University

Groundbreaking Green Energy Project Developed by Hydrovolts, CWU, CWREC

August 7, 2012

ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Seattle-based Hydrovolts, Central Washington University, and the Central Washington Resource Energy Collaborative (CWREC) have joined together on an ingenious project to boost the nation's renewable energy resources.

When people think about hydropower, they generally envision massive dams, such as those on the Columbia River. Hydrovolts has come up with a distinctive approach for producing power from flowing water, on a much smaller, yet plentiful scale.    

The company’s new, patented hydrokinetic turbine technology taps an overlooked source of renewable energy—currents in irrigation canals and channels—that has the potential to generate local, reliable, and economical clean power.

“There are huge regions of the world that are irrigated, where they’ve built these highways of water,” said Burt Hamner, founder and CEO of Hydrovolts. “We’ve found a way to make a little power off it without any environmental impact.”

Hydrovolts has contracted with CWU to design a new generator to make electricity from its turbines. The stackable generator will enable the power output of the turbine to be easily increased if the water current is increased.

The initial $50,000 contract will support research involving Hydrovolts’ researcher Charles Pringle and two Central students.

Wayne Quirk, CWU dean of Graduate Studies and Research, said, “Hydrovolts is an incredibly innovative and forward thinking group. Dr. Pringle’s unique expertise could lead to a series of long-term projects to approach the solution of harnessing energy from low-flow waterways.”

Quirk expects this will be the first of many such contracts involving CWU and a variety of partners in industry. In addition, Hydrovolts, CWU, and CWREC are considering development of an applied sciences turbine test facility.

“Kittitas County has a great deal to offer Seattle-based, globally competitive companies in terms of proximity, waterways for testing, and ongoing quality assurance,” said Tony Aronica, CWREC program coordinator.

Hamner added, “We’re delighted to have CWU inventing clean tech for us. We’re also fortunate that the state’s Innovate Washington will help us manage the intellectual property that is invented.”

The turbine technology is already being tested in Europe for use in ocean tidal currents. However, in the United States, it is fresh water that has the power potential. In Washington specifically, irrigation canals have tremendous potential for such energy production.

Hydrovolts turbines can be installed in irrigation canals and utilize the steady, uninterrupted flow of water to power its turbine. The devices are neutrally buoyant so they can generate power floating on the water’s surface or sitting on the bottom of the canal without impeding the flow or affecting water quality.

Depending on the rate of water flow, these devices can produce up to 12 kilowatts of energy apiece—sufficient to light a few nearby homes. And they can be installed in series down the length of a canal to generate more power. Hydrovolts is also developing a waterfall turbine that could produce up to 20 kilowatts from the spillways in large water treatment plants and some big canals.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has initiated a pilot test program of the Hydrovolts turbines in the Roza Canal, which runs from Yakima to Benton City. If successful, the bureau may begin installing turbines along its 47,000 miles of canals, which could produce megawatts of hydropower power without construction of dams and with no environmental impact.

Media Contact: Robert Lowery, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,

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