R&D Forum

Michigan State University using NSF grant to investigate hydropower

Scientists at Michigan State University will use a $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate new ways of producing hydropower, increasing food production and lessening the environmental damage caused by dams. The study is called Rethinking Dams: Innovative Hydropower Solutions to Achieve Sustainable Food and Energy Production and Sustainable Communities.

In a four-year project that runs until Dec. 31, 2020, MSU is investigating innovative technology geared toward smaller dams and in-water turbines, ways to move nutrient-rich sediment from behind dams onto farm fields to increase food production, and strategies to fix the unfair price structure of energy produced by hydropower facilities (under which, MSU says, “far-away urban residents tend to pay less for dam-produced energy, while nearby rural residents pay more”).

Emilio Moran, principal investigator on the project based in the College of Social Science, will partner with MSU hydroengineers, hydrogeologists, climatologists, economists and biologists. The team will focus on the Amazon Basin, which it calls the epicenter of hydropower development. Moran said the team will assess the full impact of dams and ultimately attempt “to fit hydropower to the diverse situations of people who are near the dams and to find the right technology.”

Team engineers will design in-water turbines that could be prototypes for new ways to generate hydropower without the negative social or environmental costs, according to a press release.

Paper reviews fish passage technologies at high-head dams

In response to the need for studies and evaluations to inform what is known generally about fish passage and specifically about the quality of the habitat in the waters of the Columbia River above the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council has released a paper.

In its 2014 Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program, the council addressed mitigation of the impacts of dams that impound water for hydropower facilities on anadromous fish in areas where dams block fish passage to historic habitat. Neither Chief Joseph nor Grand Coulee were built with fish passage facilities.

In this paper, NWPCC staff evaluated information from passage studies at the two dams and at other dams where fish passage has been studied or completed. The paper explores six themes that could apply in planning and providing fish passage (for adults and juveniles) at high-head dams:

  • Allow adequate time for evaluations and feasibility studies
  • Variations in site characteristics and the age of passage systems make comparisons of existing fish passage on the basis of cost inaccurate
  • Understand and account for differences in site characteristics
  • Stay up to date with passage technologies as they evolve and improve
  • Collaborate with project owners, regulators, fish and wildlife agencies, tribes, scientists and interested parties as it can be critical to successful, large-scale anadromous fish passage projects
  • Consider developing a science-based decision framework for new projects to help organize and assess all the biological, environmental, hydraulic, technical, and economic data for a range of passage alternatives under consideration at each site

The paper is available at www.nwcouncil.org/media/7490900/2016-14.pdf.

Matthew Fuller: Graduating researcher of the HRF

Matthew Fuller is pursuing his doctoral degree at Duke University in North Carolina, studying the application of landscape genetics theory to river networks and fragmentation by dams. Fuller previously was an environmental consultant working with watershed and lake associations to develop best management plans and was involved in renewable energy development.

Fuller is completing his research this semester with the support of Dr. Martin Doyle and has worked with Carol Goolsby at Duke Energy and Yetta Jager at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. His research report, Freshwater Mussel Landscape Genomics: Physical not Genetic Isolation in River Networks, is available at www.hydrofoundation.org/research-results.html#Fuller.

Landscape genomics of the freshwater mussel Elliptio complanata were evaluated across the Neuse River Basin in North Carolina using genetic markers for genotyping individuals. Results indicated that E. complanata in this basin may not have experienced genetic divergence as a result of the physical isolation and habitat fragmentation experienced over the past 400 years.

The Hydro Research Foundation supports graduate students to conduct research related to hydropower, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Program and industry partners. To learn more, visit www.hydrofoundation.org.

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R&D Forum

Study reveals how water flow affects fish egg hatching

Scientists tracking the survival of endangered salmon species in the Sacramento River have determined that more water flow is required for larger eggs to supply them with oxygen and carry away waste.

Previously, scientists determined that at high temperatures, salmon eggs survived in the laboratory but died in the river. A model based on a literature review of laboratory studies predicted that temperatures in the upper Sacramento River since 1996 almost never got warm enough to cause mortality of salmon embryos. However, field studies indicated that temperature-related mortality exceeded 75% in some years.

According to results published in Ecology Letters, scientists with NOAA Fisheries and the University of California at Santa Cruz used a biophysical model based on mass transfer theory to show that the discrepancy between the laboratory and field survival was due to the differences in water flow velocities. They determined that “thermal tolerance of embryos depends on egg size and flow velocity of the surrounding water.”

NOAA Fisheries has added the new findings to agency guidance regarding temperatures needed to support chinook salmon (the species tested) in the Sacramento River.

Software suite provides market research on energy storage

Navigant Research offers a new Data Services product that provides an overview of new and ongoing global energy storage projects, covering technologies such as pumped storage hydro, batteries, capacitors, flywheels and thermal.

The product “leverage[s] an extensive library of energy industry market research and provide[s] timely analysis and forecast data.” Data available includes historical data, detailed market forecasts and highlights of emerging technologies, companies, services and business models. Users can view data in tabular and graphic formats, or create charts, tables and graphs to visualize trends by specifying desired market segments, manufacturers, product categories or regions, the company says.

Kevin Kircher: Graduating researcher of the HRF

Kevin Kircher, a PhD student in mechanical engineering at Cornell University, is completing his research — Coupling Hydropower, PV and Flexible Loads in a Carbon Free Microgrid — in January with the support of Dr. Max Zhang. He has been working with Erin Foraker at the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and Jay Mearns with Pacific Gas & Electric.

Hawai’i imports 85% of its food and relies on fossil fuels for 95% of its energy. Hawai’ian electricity is the most expensive in the U.S. at about 42 ¢/kWh. Sustainable energy and agriculture projects are attractive but the state’s regulatory environment often makes grid-connected renewable projects infeasible.

The research team will design a microgrid including a pumped-storage system, a PV array, and direct control of flexible electric loads. This design will include control algorithms to optimally balance seasonal variations in water flow rates; seasonal, diurnal and real-time fluctuations in PV output; and the time-varying costs and constraints of a diverse portfolio of flexible loads.

The Hydro Research Foundation (www.hydrofoundation.org) supports graduate students to conduct hydro-related research.