Environmental, North America, Research and Development

PNNL licenses Sensor Fish technology to Advanced Telemetry Systems

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has licensed its Sensor Fish technology to ATS – Advanced Telemetry Systems.

The Sensor Fish is a small autonomous device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stressors that fish experience when passing through turbulent waters and turbines at hydroelectric facilities.

The technology was recently licensed to ATS through a process known as technology transfer, which enables federally-funded research to be made commercially available.  

The sensors provide such physical measurements as acceleration, pressure, rotational velocity and orientation. Each sensor provides roughly 2,000 measurements per second and typically takes less than two minutes to pass through the dam due to the water’s velocity. Once the Sensor Fish comes out on the other side of the dam, an automatic retrieval system brings it to the surface. Radio signals and flashing LED lights from the Sensor Fish will then allow them to be collected quickly from boats stationed nearby.

“The vast majority of juvenile salmon and steelhead passing through the turbines survive without injury in the Columbia River Basin,” said Daniel Deng, a laboratory fellow at PNNL. “Still, we want to understand more about the injuries and mortality that do occur from abrupt pressure changes in dam turbine chambers. The Sensor Fish provides information to help engineers design more fish-friendly turbines going forward.”

The Sensor Fish has demonstrated its value in many field studies. Now, with the technology licensed to ATS, the manufacturing process can be streamlined, and more hydropower operators and researchers will be able to put it to use, PNNL says.

“There is a big need for the type of data provided by the Sensor Fish,” says ATS president Peter Kuechle. “Mature hydropower industries in the U.S. and Europe hope to modify operations in order to help fish survive. In Europe, regulations insist on testing for this information, and certainly there’s a need for the data in emerging hydropower projects globally.”

The development of PNNL’s tracking and sensing technologies was funded over many years by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute.