Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Jan 08

Renewable Energy From Slow Water Currents

Posted in Energy Inventions | Future Technology | Hydro Power | Tidal Power

Slow Water Currents We can use slow moving ocean and river waves for a new, reliable and affordable alternative energy source. A University of Michigan engineer has developed a device that acts like a fish that turns the potentially destructive vibrations in water into clean, renewable energy. This machine is named as VIVACE ( Vortex Induced Vibrations for Aquatic Clean Energy). It is the first known device that could draw energy from most water currents around the world, according to a statement from the University of Michigan. “There won’t be one solution for the world’s energy needs,” VIVACE developer Michael Bernitsas, a professor at the U-M department of naval architecture and marine engineering, said in the statement. “But if we could harness 0.1 percent of the energy in the ocean, we could support the energy needs of 15 billion people.”

VIVACE can work in flowing water moving slower than 2 knots, or about 2 miles per hour. Here it should be noted that most water currents are slower than 3 knots, while turbines and water mills need an average of 5 or 6 knots to operate efficiently. VIVACE doesn’t need waves, tides, turbines or dams. It’s an unequaled hydrokinetic energy system that relies on “vortex induced vibrations.” Think like a fish not like a bird, say researchers of the University of Michigan. Because in water, nature has invented a different strategy for natural swimmers. If we observe the movement of a tiny sperm or a giant whale, we will see that they generate vortices (or little whirlpools) that they push off of to propel themselves forward. Michael Bernitsas of the University of Michigan, realized that these same vortices could be used to drive a generator. He and his colleagues have invented VIVACE whose cylinders oscillate up and down in moving waters. “This device works naturally in the marine environment,” says Bernitsas.

Bernitsas’ team has developed a working prototype in their lab. The spring-supported cylinder moves up and down in a tank of moving water. As water bangs into the cylinder, this action induces turbulence which transforms into a vortex. The vortex eventually rolls off the back, giving the cylinder a little push as it goes. The next vortex that forms will spin in reverse and give a push in the opposite direction. These opposing forces cause the cylinder to vibrate up and down. The high density of water, makes the vibrations about 800 times more energetic than they would be in air at the same speed. Due to this, the VIVACE system can produce three to 10 times more energy from a given volume of moving water than tidal turbines.

Bernitsas and his team have tried to duplicate the roughness of fish scales on their cylinders because a rough cylinder surface could increase the power output by 40 to 70 percent compared to a smooth surface. Bernitsas is also impressed with fish tails. His team has begun to experiment with passive tails that could keep vortices from interfering with each other.

Currently Bernitsas’ group is working with the U.S. Navy to install two VIVACE systems in the next year: one in the Detroit River and another in an ocean environment somewhere.

Although the production of VIVACE systems in commercial plants is still a future dream, the cost of electricity from a mature VIVACE installation would be roughly 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is similar to the current price of wind generation. Roger Bedard, EPRI’s ocean energy leader is of the opinion that with the passage of time, slower tidal passages will become economical.

  • deepthi naidu

    This is really nice article which i have read these days…but how about the maintenance of this in the sense as it is marine and it seems the installation cost?? to b high

  • Ravi Soparkar

    Dear Prof. Michael Bernitsas,

    Congratulations for inventing amazing technology to generate energy from slow moving water mass.

    I am sure this will change many equations in energy generation in near future.

    I would love to receive more info. and license to go for this technology in India for benefit of rural population.

    Ravi Soparkar, Pune, India

  • Daniel

    This sounds like another good idea if it can be realized in a financially feasible way. One part of the article that worries me is the mention making enough power for 15 billion people. Overpopulation is the root cause for every environmental issue we face today. We, as a species, should create more renewable energy resources and less people.

    Daniel G.
    Norman Oklahoma, USA

  • Rob

    @deepthi – I agree with you that the installation costs would be very high, but the initial investment in all new forms of energy are high. In my humble opinion, the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the short-term costs.

  • D Clark

    Finally, my thought is that you could go further of shore and tap into the larger oceanic currents like the gulf stream in the Atlanic etc. This has been on my mind for months and finally someone is on the right track as your system seems to be very fish friendly. If your estimate of 15 million is only the energy washing ashore think of the potential in the larger oceans, they are all moving.


  • L Maniot

    Congratulations on the invention. I hope to see it out in the world soon.

    But to what “Daniel” said. Im sorry sir but over population is not a fact it is a mere estimate. If you really took the time to think about it there is 24,000,000,000(24 billion) sq. feet in Jacksonville, Florida alone. If you think about that and the fact that the average person takes up about 4 feet each then you would see that everyone in the world could fit into Florida!! (not comfortably, but they would fit) In truth the only reason that the earth would seem overpopulated is because all the nice places to live is were everyone moves… (Hawaii, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, San Fransico) And have you ever driven across Texas or Montana or even Nebraska? There is so much land out there its not even funny. And the only reason people aren’t there is because they want to live else where.


    Very good tech. indeed, but seems as if the fixed cost might go high. there is a vast source of slow moving water areas, and if this tech is a success, definitely a huge amount of deficit can be handled.

  • Saunders

    @L Maniot
    Overpopulation refers to the Earth’s capability for supporting human life, not space. Already we are reaching the sustainable levels. If we look at land area, the earth could very easily support hundreds of billions of people, however where would we grow food? How would we rotate crops? It would be nice to move everyone into a contained area but it just is not feasible.

  • edward austin

    Instead of a grandiose large scale application it would seem to me that smaller would be better, IE used in canals etc with slow tidal current.

    Large scale would require a much more sophisticated dampening – structure maintenance system I believe.

    if it were possible for A system that could produce even 500 – 1000 watts this could seriously augment solar – wind etc in a home system. Simply because the wind does not always blow the sun does not always shine yet tides wait fo no man and is a constant.

  • Mad Hatter

    Seems like this was inspired directly from Vicktor Schauberger. We need more of his work to be taken seriously, and it seems this professor has… in some ways.

  • Population Bomb alarmist

    @Daniel and @Saunders
    Puh-lease. It sounds like you’ve been reading Paul R. Ehrlich’s book, The Population Bomb, from 1968. It’s prediction of over-consumption and mass starvation in the 70’s and 80’s was wrong 40 years ago, and it remains so. Get over it. This article is about a technology that will hopefully come to fruition and meet a part of our energy needs; no need to go off on an overpopulation tangent.

  • Leo Sapphire

    I hate to burst anyone’s bubble here, but having lived in Texas for a long number of years I can safely say that most of Texas is semi-arid desert. All of that open land you see is mostly dead. The topsoil over most of it is only 3 inches deep, with hundreds of feet of limestone under it. Lots of mesquite trees and brush, but the only reason they can survive is that they can store massive amounts of water if it actually does rain. You could put a house up, but be prepared to drill a well through solid rock to between 475 to 800 feet, and hope you have good water when you find it.

    If you don’t build in the Edwards aquifer zone in south TX, don’t count on any water at all, and the bad water line in the aquifer is less than 500 feet down if memory serves. Nearly all of the places where people can safely live on this planet and also some less than desirable ones too, are jammed full of people. Remember, it is not enough to have room for people to live, you have to have room to grow food, and that takes up far more room than the number of people. There is very little agriculture can do to make more food. We take thousands of acres more every day to build on and most of that used to be cropland.

    Millions are starving in some parts of the world because they destroyed all their resources just to try to stay alive. We will have a population crash at some point, because electric can’t replace all the artificial chemicals we use from oil. Without artificial crop supports there is only enough resources available for maybe 1.5 billion people, with the growing space available today. I don’t count on there being enough cropland to feed even that many people at some point down the road. Just because someone makes a prediction that misses its date, don’t count on it not smacking you upside the head later. Don’t assume it won’t happen just because it didn’t yet, because human greed and ignorance is unlimited, unlike our resources.

  • Edward Austin

    Sorry Leo No bubbles bursted. You may be unaware (living in Texas) There just happens to be an Ocean nearby (Think desalinization).

    Needless to say it is already happening. “Earlier this month, Renew Blue, a subsidiary of the Minneapolis-based Independent Natural Resources, was granted the first-ever state off-shore wave energy lease from the Texas General Land Office. On Thursday, Renew Blue announced that it has licensed its technology to Texas Natural Resources and that they will partner to develop an off-shore facility for 18 Seadog pumps that will both produce power and desalinate seawater for drinking.”

    Might not be in our lifetime But for sure IF the human race Sticks around long enuff Dreams may become a reality. Too many times people say things are too expensive only because they may not be scalable enough to create a sizable return for large corporations. While on an individual level they become practical.

    Really is too bad that almost all things are relegated to for profit (monetary) enterprise. Although there is ALWAYS HOPE. When people like Nikola Tesla and Jonas Salk still Exist. Neither made a fortune for themselves instead many people would not even be here if it were not for them.

    It is no longer good enough to think Outside the BOX. What is needed I think is to think in another dimension. One where Profit money and greed do not exist. Only humanitarian ventures allowed.

    the ed council

  • J.H.

    To L Maniot:

    People live in Nebraska. Lot’s of people do, the reason not many live there is primarily because of the Ogallala Water basin, the largest underground water resource in the world, which we currently use for irrigation. The reason not a lot of people live in Nebraska, is because we FARM there. It takes up a lot of land, thousands of acres to feed our population and even other places in the world.

    You’re still right about one thing, it does suck to live in the middle of nowhere, but it will only be the middle of nowhere till more people move out there. Cities grow, some of the smallest ones like Las Vegas, a desert town in the middle of nowhere, it is a large city now, only because it has gambling. Who knows? Maybe Bismarck will be the capital of the free world someday?

  • ankita

    How can i make a working model of it as a college project?

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