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Team developing new monitoring tools for hydropower generation

Thu, 12/19/2013 - 8:52am

Making electricity from water is getting a facelift. Instead of creating large amounts of power in one place—from large dams or even small turbines in water treatment plants—there's value now in making tiny amounts of electricity anywhere there is a water source, from streams to water faucets.

Carnegie Mellon Univ.'s Diana Marculescu is leading a multidisciplinary team of industry and academic researchers to develop novel monitoring tools for placement and control of hydrokinetic generators throughout river systems nationwide.

"There is value in making small amounts of electricity anywhere there is flowing water, from rivers to the garden hose," said Marculescu, a professor in CMU's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). "Energy harvesting from water is trapped in an archaic damming paradigm with high-up-front costs and ecological impacts. But rivers run to the ocean, and there is an enormous amount of kinetic energy that could be sustainably harvested."

A three-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will help Marculescu and her team investigate and ultimately control large-scale sustainable energy harvesting in river networks. Her team is banking on the efficiency of an environmentally friendly alternative, known as hydrokinetic or run-of-the-river power extraction, which harvests a small portion of kinetic energy in the river at multiple locations.

In addition to Diana Marculescu, the team, with expertise in electrical and computer engineering includes R. Marculescu, a CMU ECE professor; P. Bogdan of EE-Systems at the University of Southern California and a 2011 CMU engineering graduate; F. Liu of IBM and a 1999 CMU engineering alumnus; B. Hodges of the CAEE Department at the University of Texas-Austin; and S. Blumsack of the EME Department at Penn State and a 2006 CMU engineering graduate.

The team will build from the ground up multi-scale hierarchical models for analyzing large-scale river networks, hydropower project placement and control, much the same way as complex VLSI (Very Large Scale Integrated) chips are analyzed and built. Policy and environmental implications will tie everything together for a comprehensive treatment of the relatively new technology.

"There is a huge benefit to society in this work as we strive to create more sustainable ways to power our lives. Small footprint hydroelectric projects could create enough low-carbon energy to power an economy the size of Virginia while minimizing impact to the environment and surrounding communities," said Marculescu said.

The research team also will study the impacts of how climate-aware planning for these distributed hydrokinetic power generators could help populations avoid catastrophic events like flooding or earthquakes.

Source:Carnegie Mellon Univ.

 
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