Boston-based Free Flow Power Corp. said Wednesday it is successfully operating its first full-scale hydrokinetic turbine generator in the Mississippi River attached to Dow Chemical Co.’s dock in Plaquemine.
Hydrokinetic turbines, which resemble the turbines in jet engines, use water currents to generate electricity. The generators can be mounted on riverbeds, bridge piers or beneath barges.
Companies like Free Flow have proposed plans for dozens of hydrokinetic turbines to generate electricity.
Two years ago, Free Flow said it was looking at 55 sites along the Mississippi River, and has bumped that up to 67, Free Flow spokesman Jon Guidroz said.
Free Flow’s turbine at the Dow dock has been in operation since June 20 and marks the first time the company’s equipment has generated electricity in the Mississippi River, Guidroz said.
He said the turbine is rated for 40 kilowatts, and the device is operating at or above its predicted power curve.
“The equipment is handling the Mississippi River conditions without power interruptions or degradation,” Ed Lovelace, Free Flow’s chief technology officer, said in a news release.
The Plaquemine installation is the culmination of three years of research and development by Free Flow, which used a combination of private funds and a $1.4 million federal Department of Energy grant.
For now, Free Flow will continue operating the turbine and gathering data, probably until the Mississippi River drops to its low-water point, Guidroz said.
The company is considering another pilot project that would deploy a turbine in the riverbed, he said.
Free Flow plans to drive pilings into the river bottom and mount turbines to the pilings, the same as it would in a commercial installation, Guidroz said. The company would then need to complete the study process for that project, take all the information from that project and file a complete license application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Free Flow hopes then to secure the first commercial hydrokinetic license and begin installing turbines in the Mississippi for commercial power production, Guidroz said.
Free Flow has begun discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about a preliminary location for the riverbed installation, Guidroz said. But that site is “very funding-dependent.”
Free Flow will need to secure additional grant funding for that installation. It hopes to get the Department of Energy’s Advanced Water Power Program grant for a larger project size, Guidroz said.
Applicants that have won in the past have had partnerships with states, “where the states put a little skin in the game,” he said.
Free Flow would like to put together a project where Louisiana joins with DOE to provide grant funding and Free Flow Power brings in private dollars to multiply their money, Guidroz said.
Free Flow has 25 preliminary permits and 42 more are in process, Guidroz said.
Two years ago, Free Flow said it was looking at 55 sites along the Mississippi — 29 of the sites were in Louisiana. At the time, the company said the combined output capacity from its plants would amount to 1,600 megawatts of electricity, enough to power roughly 1.6 million homes.
“We’ve increased the number of sites we’re investigating on the Mississippi River. We’ve surrendered a few of the sites we consider no longer viable at this time,” Guidroz said.
One other firm, Canada-based Northland Power, has applied for three hydrokinetic permits, Guidroz said.
“But it’s a good indicator that the Mississippi River is definitely being noticed as a viable economic hydrokinetic resource,” Guidroz said.