waterwheel Carruthers wheel
Computer rendered model of a Carruthers Wheel. Image: supplied.

A Scottish project utilising a flat-pack design might just turn small scale hydropower into a viable option for communities where existing turbine methods are deemed too expensive.

Carruthers Renewables has teamed up with the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) to explore manufacturing methods for a patented waterwheel capable of producing electricity in energy scarce developing countries.

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The one-year, $323,000 project is funded by the Department for International Development and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council through the Innovate UK Energy Catalyst. The aim of the project is to help the company to exploit the AFRC expertise in advanced manufacturing methods before selecting the most cost-effective and sustainable way of making the wheels.

A computational model of the wheels will be unveiled at the Hydro 2020 Conference at the end of October in Strasbourg, France. This computer model is the first to predict behaviour and aid future design of a waterwheel of such a specific geometry.

The Carruthers Wheel has a unique smooth water action within the wheel, which explains its high efficiency at an unprecedented range of flows.

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The first waterwheel to be patented in 138 years, the Carruthers Wheel is an innovative solution to produce electricity from waterfalls and rivers which have a less than a five-metre drop. Up to now, this small distance was deemed unviable and unprofitable because of the high cost of turbines for small bodies of water. Operating at a range of speeds and flows, the specially designed blades allow the Carruthers Wheel to harness the full potential of a river to harness a lost cost supply of power.

Invented by former maths lecturer turned civil engineer, Penelope Carruthers, the new waterwheel does not interfere with the course of the water. It is, therefore, more environmentally friendly than a traditional mill or turbine installation which can have a negative impact on a river’s ecosystem.

Penny Carruthers: “In the past sites with a lower than five metre drop have been identified as a possibility for hydropower before a decision was made to move on, due to the high cost. With millions of such sites across the world, there remains a hugely untapped resource, which has the possibility to change the lives of people in the surrounding towns and villages.

 “The support we have received from the AFRC so far has been incredible. We have been working together to secure the best manufacturing route allowing easy install and maintenance of the wheel, along with the ability to withstand harsh environments. Above all, the goal is the make a wheel that will provide electricity to people who are currently living with no access to the grid and the progress made so far has been ground-breaking,” said Carruthers.

Small scale hydropower to address energy poverty

Once a production method is determined, the intention is to flat-pack Carruthers Wheels to be shipped to far-flung communities across the world. The wheels can be installed and maintained by local, unskilled workers. In many cases, these wheels would then provide electricity to isolated rural communities for the first time.

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The AFRC is a specialist technology centre within the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS). The business development team works with SMEs to assist with funding bids for projects, matching companies with engineering experts within the Centre for manufacturing and broader innovation and business support. Within the Carruthers Wheel project, the Forming Team has played an integral part in developing the consortium and has been responsible for aspects of technical delivery in the design of the wheel.

Ekaterina McKenna, Business Development Executive at the AFRC: “According to a recent United Nations hydropower report, there are millions of sites worldwide with a river or waterfall of less than five metres drop, especially across Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. In the small communities surrounding these sites, less than 10% of the population has access to electricity.

“The feasibility project with Carruthers Renewables is allowing us to support this growing start-up with its manufacturing engineering needs, including extreme cost-effectiveness and ease of maintenance, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, with the hope of taking the hydro- wheel to the next stage of development.

“Carruthers Wheel is a fantastic opportunity to deliver huge positive economic, societal and environmental impact in Scotland, across the UK and across the world,” said McKenna.