River-generated power project gets grant

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Published: April 14,2010

Tags: energy, water power

NEW ORLEANS — A $3-million federal economic stimulus grant will be used to establish a center for commercial development for turbines that can be placed in the Mississippi River and other powerful rivers to generate electricity.

Officials with Tulane University, which is guiding the River Sphere project, said the center could mark a big step forward in the science of hydrokinetics — using flowing water without a dam for generating electricity.

Calling the river one of Louisiana’s best potential assets in alternative forms of power, Douglas Meffert, executive director of the project, said hydrokinetic power “is the sleeping giant of energy.”

Using the river to generate power is well beyond the thinking stage.

Several companies have received preliminary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to place turbines in the Mississippi and other rivers that would be turned by flowing water. Several different technologies are emerging to do that, such as totally underwater generation and turbines connected to barges on the surface that would do the generation.

Plans call for the turbines to be mounted on pylons below shipping lanes and attached to bridge abutments.

Meffert said the idea for River Sphere was a decade old, but technologies are now emerging to make hydrokinetics a reality. “The time is now for New Orleans to take advantage of this,” he said.

Developers of hydrokinetics often point to the diminishing role of water-generated power in the United States despite decades of skyrocketing energy demand.

The 22,000-square-foot center would be developed in an existing building at the Port of New Orleans. Plans call for laboratories, a barge where turbines can be river-tested and administrative space needed to attract new business involved in hydrokinetics to New Orleans — and create jobs, Meffert said.

Tulane said five companies and property owners have expressed interest in using River Sphere to test and deploy turbines — Free Flow Power, MARMC Enterprises, LLC, Gulfstream Technologies Inc., Leviathan, LLC and the huge Federal City development in New Orleans, which will house federal military and civilian agencies.

Solar technology also will be tested on the building’s rooftop, Meffert said.

Meffert said the center hoped to have a testing barge in place within a year and the center fully operational in about two years. The university also has an option on property to eventually expand the operation to 90,000 square feet, he said.

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