Mar 17, 2016 | By Tess

With global warming becoming an increasingly pressing concern for our world’s populations, sustainable energy options with low environmental impacts have begun to gain importance. Areas like wind energy and solar-powered energy have provided us with options to harness rather than exploit our natural resources, and now, with innovators like Ted Christopher of Verterra Energy Inc., we can even harness the power of water on a small scale without having to build environmentally damaging dams.

Christopher, who founded Minneapolis based Verterra Energy Inc in 2010, has been working for years to develop a prototype for a run-of-the-river turbine capable of generating electricity without negatively effecting the environments it is placed in. Of course, Verterra Energy is not the only company working within the field of hydrokinetic energy, but it has developed a wholly new and innovative design for its water turbine, made with the help of 3D printing.

The water turbine system, called Volturnus, operates based on a horizontal design that generates energy while also deflecting river debris such as rocks, plants, or logs. The turbines, deployed in sets of 5, called V-Pods, sit below the water’s surface in flowing bodies of water, subtlety and silently capturing energy from the water, enough to generate as many as 40 households. The technology, as Christopher points out, could also have a big impact on communities and areas with little access to energy, but have a current near them.

“Initially [Volturnus is] going to have the biggest impact in the areas that are just starting to develop or don't have any electricity or any infrastructure right now,” he explains. “We're going to be able to go into these places and literally in the matter of a day they're going to have purified water for the first time; they're going to have electricity for cellphone towers and the Internet and computers and refrigerators and LED lighting.”

The process of designing the now-patented turbine design relied heavily on 3D printing technologies, as Christopher and his team at Verterra 3D modeled the system and 3D printed the Volturnus Generation III prototype on Aleph Objects’ LulzBot TAZ 3D printer. With a build volume of 290mm x 275mm x 250mm (11.4” x 10.8” x 9.8”), the LulzBot TAZ was an ideal option for the process as it allowed the startup to additively manufacture relatively large parts on the still affordable 3D printer.

Christopher explains, “The price for that build volume is really a great value because we know we wanted to get the biggest printers within a reasonable budget,” Christopher said. “It's just made things easier to be able to build in larger parts rather than having 50 smaller parts if we had a smaller build volume.”

So far, Verterra has tested its 3D printed prototype in local waterways and is now looking for more investment to turn their innovative system into a commercially viable product. The company is hopeful that with the right investment capital they will be able to introduce their product on the market in as little as two years.

Christopher has been grateful for the opportunities 3D printing technology has given his startup. As he explains, “It’s an amazing new field here with 3D printers, and just the power that it gives startups to make these parts and to make prototypes is extraordinary. What’s so cool about 3D printers is we're getting back into that American spirit of actually making things and innovating again. … If you can dream it and design it, you can … make the real thing.”



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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