Press release | 26.4.2016
Munich, 26 April 2016 - In the mix of clean energy resources, hydropower has long since been regarded as the "underdog". In the EU it accounts for roughly 3% of the total energy mix, and in the US about 6% (compared to 39% from coal-burning power plants). But an ingenious water turbine invented by Czech civil engineer Miroslav Sedláček (65) could tilt the scales in favour of hydropower. Based on a powerful physical phenomenon - a rolling fluid principle known as the "vortex effect" - the bladeless "rolling fluid turbine" converts water's natural flow into upward pressure to generate enough electricity for several households. Sedláček's innovation opens up the possibility to create electricity from low-velocity resources, such as brooks and small streams, previously deemed unfit for power generation.
For this achievement, the European Patent Office (EPO) has named Miroslav Sedláček one of three finalists for the European Inventor Award 2016 in the category "Research". The winners of the 11th edition of the EPO's annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Lisbon on 9 June.
"Miroslav Sedláček's invention
could signal a paradigm shift in the scope of resources available for
generating clean electricity from water resources," said EPO President
Benoît Battistelli announcing the European Inventor Award 2016 finalists. "On
the way to meeting a growing share of total energy demands through sustainable
energy resources, this might well provide a big boost to hydropower in the
overall clean energy mix."
Sedláček achieved his breakthrough by diligently researching the vortex effect and recreating the natural suction of a vortex through the design and arrangement of an electricity-generating water turbine. In the bigger picture, the rolling fluid turbine may bolster the rise of hydropower in the energy mix, which third-party analysts currently expect to reach 188 gigawatts (GW) by 2050 - enough to meet 15% of Europe's electricity demand. Besides expanding the scope of available hydropower resources, the invention could enhance quality of life in developing communities, where electricity is either too expensive or non-existent.
The concept of using the kinetic force of flowing water for energy generation has been in use since the early 1880s, when the first dynamos equipped with blades were submerged in fast-flowing rivers. This basic concept - blades spinning in a river's current - has several things going for it: it generates baseline power, has no emissions, and will likely see an increased potential due to rising water levels created through global warming. However, its application is also limited to water resources - often created through engineered dams - with the necessary velocity from currents, altitude drops, or rapids to create electricity.
In order to solve this problem, Sedláček zeroed in on the vortex effect's capacity to increase the velocity of water exponentially. "This new hydrodynamic principle is simple and allows us to take advantage of the power of water by simple means," explains Sedláček.
Instead of using blades submerged in the water - like conventional turbines - a portion of his rolling fluid turbine floats along the water like a buoy. The rest of the device, shaped like a tubular canister approximately the size of a microwave oven, floats underwater, drawing water through an opening at the bottom into a specifically shaped turbine shaft. Inside the shaft, the powerful vortex energy rotates a cup connected to a generator that converts the rotation into electrical energy. For optimal results, the bladeless turbine operates at water flow levels of 22 to 250 litres per second, but it will already yield electricity at velocities as low as 2 litres per second. In a small stream, it generates enough energy for a small house, roughly 100 - 400 watts nominal performance.
The innovation radically expands the scope of waterways that can be tapped for power production. No longer limited to roaring, high-velocity rivers and rapids, the small turbines can be placed in seemingly calm brooks to produce significant amounts of electricity. The current generation of rolling fluid turbine delivers up to 10 kilowatt hours (kW-h) per day at efficiencies of 55-60%, which is enough to meet the demand of five European households or an entire village in a developing country.. In developing countries with inconsistent electric grid infrastructure, the bladeless turbine could generate power for individual houses, small farms and communities.
As a young researcher, Miroslav Sedláček developed a keen interest in energy generation based on hydrodynamic principles after earning his engineering degree at the University of Economics in Prague in 1976. His interest led him to focus on the vortex principle as the potential key to producing great amounts of electricity with a relatively small turbine. Sedláček and his team of inventors at the Czech Technical University in Prague spent 12 years developing the vortex principle technology, filing five key patents in the process. The inventor is currently an associate professor at the Czech Technical University in Prague, Department of Economics and Management in Civil Engineering. Two of Sedláček's colleagues at the university, Vladimír Novák and Václav Beran, worked with the inventor on developing and patenting the technology. They came up with the economic analyses for the use of Sedláček's new technical solution, which nicely complete and complement the technical aspects.
In June 2015, the invention was brought to market under the name SETUR Bladeless Turbine by Florida-based start-up company Vortex Hydrokinetics, with distribution in 16 countries. Municipalities and utility companies have signalled an interest, including Germany-based E.On Group, which is currently testing the invention's potential for feeding the power grid. The turbine has also been marketed since October 2015 under the brand name Bladeless Rolling Turbine (BRT) by Prague-based company P.F-Economy Consulting for small-scale applications in rivers and brooks.
Sustainable energy (solar, wind, water) currently accounts for 15.3% of gross final energy production in the European Union, which is pursuing the goal of raising the quota to 20% by the year 2020. In North America, third-party analysts expect total revenues from hydrokinetic power generation to reach EUR 148.7 million in 2017.
View the patent: EP2171260
Thanks to the SETUR turbine, previously unthinkable bodies of water can generate substantial levels of electricity. Thereby, the technology joins a new wave of patented inventions currently helping to advance the state of the art in solar, wind, water and biomass energy generation. Read more about sustainable energy inventions.
Director External Communications
European Patent Office
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