Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will help a small Kennewick business in its quest to develop a better hydro turbine that would be manufactured in the Tri-Cities.
Percheron Power was one of the first businesses picked in a Department of Energy pilot program to match small businesses developing clean energy technologies across the nation with national laboratories that can provide expertise and access to scientific equipment.
“The Small Business Vouchers pilot allows innovative entrepreneurs greater access to the world-class resources and brilliant minds in our (national) labs,” said David Danielson, assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “These partnerships can help small businesses solve their most technical challenges and help bring clean energy technologies to commercialization much faster.”
After the program was announced last summer, 50 businesses registered in the first five hours and more than 400 filed applications, Danielson said.
Percheron Power was one of 33 small businesses picked during the first round of funding awarded this month. Applications are being accepted for the second of three rounds for almost $6.7 million in total funding. Each small business must provide an additional 20 percent in cost-share funding or in-kind services for small businesses.
Percheron is interested in filling the need for turbines that could generate electricity in the thousands of places in U.S. waterways, such as irrigation canals or weirs, where water drops less than 30 feet.
We started thinking about ‘Why not make them in this country and not import them.’
Sharon Atkin, Percheron Power project development director
Percheron’s research has determined that those “low head” sites are where the market opportunity lies. But they require a screw-shaped turbine with no moving parts that are not manufactured in the United States, said Sharon Atkin, the company’s project development director. The turbines, called Archimedes Hydrodynamic Screw turbines, already are widely used in Europe.
For a hydro project the company is working on in Colorado, it imported three steel turbines, each weighing about 80 tons and measuring about 15 feet in diameter and more than 40 feet in length.
“We started thinking about ‘Why not make them in this country and not import them,’ ” Atkin said.
Almost 20 percent of the capital cost for the project was transportation of the turbines, with costs driven up more by equipment needed to lift such heavy turbines into place.
Percheron’s goal is to make a lighter turbine that would save 30 percent to 40 percent of the cost of the project.
It is looking at using a fiber-in-resin composite rather than the steel traditionally used for the hydro turbines. Composite materials already are used in wind turbines, Atkin said.
The lower Percheron can drive the cost for hydro turbines, the more places they might make economic sense for power production.
The company is turning to a PNNL team headed by engineer Marshall Richmond to use advanced computer models to help with the turbine design.
The team will run different turbine models on PNNL’s Constance computer to compare the performance of different designs and predict the stresses and strength requirements for different parts of the turbine.
PNNL also will work on an Oregon project to advance algorithms for energy-efficient buildings and a California project producing a useful chemical from plants.
PNNL has been awarded $200,000 in the pilot program for the project.
Percheron expects to have enough information in six months to start working on a 6-foot-diameter model of the design that it will take to a hydraulics laboratory in Utah for testing. It’s a usable size but less than half the size of the largest turbines that could be employed.
Without PNNL’s technical assistance, Percheron would have to rely on rules of thumb, which likely would mean overdesigning the turbines to make sure all parts were strong enough.
PNNL should help Percheron get much closer to the optimal design than it could through trial and error and do it at less cost, Atkin said.
PNNL also has been picked to help with two other projects in the Small Business Vouchers pilot program.
It will use $300,000 to help NorthWrite of Lake Oswego, Ore., test and validate algorithms used to help small and medium-sized commercial buildings cut their power bills. The algorithms were developed at national labs, but are not ready for commercial use.
PNNL and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will also help Visolis, based in Berkeley, Calif., scale up its process to convert sugars derived from plants to a chemical to use in the place of petroleum to make synthetic rubbers, latex and adhesives. PNNL has $125,000 for its share of the work for Visolis.