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Energy from Limited Velocity Estuaries and Rivers

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ELVER (Energy from Limited Velocity Estuaries and Rivers)

Reporting period: 2019-12-01 to 2020-05-31

Eel Energy, a French hydrotech startup, has developed a 1MW tidal energy converter based on biomimetic principles, generating electricity via an undulating membrane producing energy via linear converters, which significantly outperforms turbine-based technology in terms of simplicity, reliability, efficiency and environmental footprint. ELVER is a 80kW riverine-adapted version of their tidal generator.

In this phase 1 feasibility study for ELVER, Eel has 1) characterised and quantified riverine resources for small hydro installation locations, and the key advantages of its device; 2) performed in depth studies of potential commercial trials locations, 3) enhanced the technical roadmap, roll-out strategy, commercialisation plan, and IP strategy. Operations were significantly impacted by the COVID 19 lockdown, which required some reprioritisation within these goals.

We reaffirmed the feasibility of ELVER through 1) improving our methodology for site and resource characterisation, 2) identifying a new niche approach for initial market entry, based on supplementary generation with existing dams, or reuse of existing (waste) water flows, rather than run of the river installations, 3) performing a detailed site survey for a potential commercial trial site, 4) overcoming technical issues with our scaled prototype field installation to redesign ELVER as cheaper, more robust, and higher performance, and 5) updating our commercialisation plan.

The potential impact of ELVER remains to enable clean green hydropower at an unprecedented range of potential installation sites, in both mature markets, and the developing world.

An accelerated adoption of renewable energy generation is needed to meet the ambitious but necessary goals for low-carbon economy set by the European Commission (80% reduction from 1990 greenhouse emissions to 2050), and the G7 (elimination of fossil fuel generation to 2100). Despite good progress, it is still difficult to create a stable renewable energy generation mix, and to provide solutions that can reach all locations and communities in Europe, including remote communities. Significant parts of rivers worldwide remain an untapped energy resource, due to the lack of appropriate technology for hydro power extraction from remote/environmentally sensitive locations, or those with low-head, current velocity, or depth.

Eel Energy, a French hydrotech startup, has developed a 1MW tidal energy converter based on biomimetic principles. Eel’s solution is an undulating membrane producing energy via linear converters, which significantly outperforms turbine-based technology in terms of simplicity, reliability, efficiency and environmental footprint. Eel Energy is now developing the ELVER (baby eel), a small (80kW), riverine-adapted version of their tidal generator. Compared with standard turbine solutions, ELVER will be able to reach higher efficiency and reliability, operate at lower heads and current velocities, and require far less civil works: reducing installation, operations costs, and environmental impact of installation. This technology has an unprecedented range of potential installation sites, and can play an important part in the sustainability of rural/remote communities. ELVER allows the development of new hydrokinetic resources, in both mature markets, and the developing world.

In this phase 1 feasibility study, we 1) characterised and quantified riverine resources for small hydro installation locations, and the key advantages of its device; 2) performed in depth studies of potential commercial trials locations, 3) enhanced the technical roadmap, roll-out strategy, commercialisation plan, and IP strategy.
During the study, we reaffirmed the feasibility of ELVER through 1) improving our methodology for site and resource characterisation, 2) identifying a new niche approach for initial market entry, based on supplementary generation with existing dams, or reuse of existing (waste) water flows, rather than run of the river installations, 3) performing a detailed site survey for a potential commercial trial site, 4) overcoming technical issues with our scaled prototype field installation to redesign ELVER as cheaper, more robust, and higher performance, and 5) updating our commercialisation plan.
Our operations were significantly impacted by the COVID 19 lockdown, which required some reprioritisation within these goals. We focused on the main commercial activity of better market and site characterisation, and the key technological milestone of demonstrating continuous power generation over a statistically significant time period. In order to compensate for data lost during lockdown, we supplemented data gathered during the formal project period with data gathered during the report writing period.
Our updated commercial analysis has identified an important, and previously hidden, series of niche segments based around installing ELVER to supplement existing hydro power sites, or to reuse (waste) water flows from installations such as heavy industry, nuclear power sites, or fish farms. We discovered that these niches are more sustainable and robust than 'run of the river' standalone installations, and make a better go to market pathway.
Our redesigned 2kW scaled prototype has delivered power 24 hours a day without core component failure for nearly 2 months now, in a wastewater canal at a fish farm.
We applied these results to update our design, technical roadmap, and commercialisation plan.
Our baseline ELVER design was already beyond the state of the art for small hydro when it came to a) cost-effectiveness at low head and low velocities, b) low impact installation, c) maintenance (no turbine design with few moving parts so low maintenance), and d) scalability.
Our improved design further improves this situation - the new design is cheaper, more scalable, more robust (lower maintenance), and more efficient. We are now in the process of validating the improved results with our scaled prototype. The next steps are to complete validation of the scaled prototype, commence sales of small units, and prepare the next technical phase - scaling to a market entry device size and power rating.
In parallel with the reduction of technical risk and improvement in technical design and performance, the feasibility study identified a more robust, lower risk go-to-market approach, resulting in an improved potential growth rate. Furthermore, we determined that accelerating our market entry, although a greater risk, could generate significant reward - bringing closer our potential to add 200-800MW to the sustainable energy mix for Europe in some of the most difficult to service hydropower locations, removing 5.7 Mt CO2-eq.. This higher risk pathway would be made available if the non-bankability could be offset through public funding from e.g. EIC Accelerator or its successor program.
EEL membrane at Ifremer tank flume
EEL at Aquanord Gravelines
EEL membrane to understand the motion
EEL membrane ifremer
EEL at Aquanord with Umbra generator
EEL Membrane at ifremer