Elastic Power


Experiments in a small Bavarian river may lead to a new form of hydropower devoid of dams or turbines. Coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research, the Bavarian government’s DEGREEN project seeks to expand renewable energy sources. The long-term effort aims to produce 40% of the state’s electricity from local, environmentally-friendly sources. The system uses extremely flexible elastomer films coated with a conductive layer that serve as capacitors. Water flowing through a Venturi tube creates negative pressure, deforming the film. The film then returns to its original configuration, the cycle taking just one second. This converts the mechanical energy of moving water into electrical energy. These “elastomer generators” can be installed side-by-side in very shallow streams or stacked in deeper water. Fraunhofer indicates its team is currently working on miniaturization of the system, with the goal of reducing generator size to that of a switch control box. A thousand such installations could produce 876 MWh of power annually, according to the company.

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