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Project to make electricity from Detroit River's flow

Nov 9, 2007 - Kathleen Gray -Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

The power of moving water has long been harnessed by hydroelectric dams, but an Ann Arbor company has a new idea to use the flow of the Detroit River to generate electricity.

Vortex Hydro Energy would anchor rows of cylinders to the bottom of the Detroit River and let the current push the cylinders up and down to generate electricity.

The company is working with the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority on a pilot project near Hart Plaza with recently patented technology.

"At the lowest level, I'd like to see it light one lightbulb," said John Kerr of the Port Authority. "But it's probably more likely that this type of pilot project would generate enough electricity to power just our project. In a perfect world, it would become a larger part of the waterfront development."

The Port Authority is developing a public dock in the river between Hart Plaza and the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. If feasibility studies support it, the Vortex project would power lights on the dock.

The technology, invented and patented by University of Michigan professor Michael Bernitsas, uses brackets that allow the cylinders to move up and down as the current passes over them.

Unlike a turbine, the device won't affect the flow of a stream or the migration of fish, said James MacBain, president of Vortex. Although the technology has potential for streams, lakes and oceans, MacBain acknowledged it's not the full answer to global energy concerns. "Wind isn't going to do it alone. Solar isn't going to do it alone," MacBain said.

Vortex was among nine companies in Detroit on Thursday as a part of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's push to expand the alternative energy business.

John Rakolta Jr., chairman of the Detroit-based Walbridge Aldinger construction company, said the company's new headquarters was built with materials that came from within 300 miles of downtown Detroit, in order to save on fuel. Walbridge has hired 25 people to work on alternative energy.

Granholm said the alternative energy field provides the best opportunity for the state to create jobs.

Contact KATHLEEN GRAY at 313-223-4407 or



Updated: 2003/07/28