In the Pipeline: A New Approach to Hydro Power

It probably won't be replacing dams and turbines anytime soon, but a new approach to generating electricity with water has caught the attention of some Canadian scientists. Instead of using the force of water flow to mechanically drive turbine blades attached to a generator, these researchers have tapped the source—the water itself—for power.

03/01/2004


It probably won't be replacing dams and turbines anytime soon, but a new approach to generating electricity with water has caught the attention of some Canadian scientists. Instead of using the force of water flow to mechanically drive turbine blades attached to a generator, these researchers have tapped the source—the water itself—for power. Water flowing through a channel naturally creates a buildup of positive and negative ions, as channel walls become charged—either because ions from the water stick to them or because some of the channel material itself dissolves. This can create problems when working with modern ceramic filters that feature extremely small openings, because the buildup of opposing charges can slow down water flow through the filter.

Larry Kostiuk, mechanical engineering professor at Canada's University of Alberta in Edmonton, and his colleague, assistant professor Daniel Y. Kwok, saw this phenomenon as an opportunity. They and their research team attached electrodes to both ends of a filter that incorporated some 450,000 channels, each one-hundredth of a millimeter wide. The filter was placed over a beaker, and water was run through it. The result: a measurable, if extremely weak, electric current was generated.

In a New York Times article related to the research, Kostiuk suggests that this kind of electrokinetic generation could someday power micro-electro-mechanical systems, which are microscopic machines manufactured using silicon-chip technology.





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