A former team of Red Deer College engineering technology students recently took home an award for modernizing a centuries-old device and transforming it into a source of renewable energy.
For their end-of-term Capstone Project, Tyler Podgorenko, Michael Nosterud, Spencer Otto and James Greenough took the ram pump to the next level by adding a turbine in the form of a Pelton wheel, which can be used to extract energy from the impulse of flowing water and generate clean electricity.
The team’s effort earned them this year’s Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta’s (ASET) Capstone Project of the Year Award.
In existence since the Roman Empire, the ram pump uses the potential energy of flowing water to pump the water to a higher elevation, and the team modified and elevated the pump to be a source of clean electricity that can be used for off-grid housing or farms in rural areas.
The modernized pump is also well-suited for livestock operations, allowing water to be brought in safely with no negative impacts on the environment, and it has the potential to provide an effective solution for developing countries where water access is a challenge.
“For me personally, this was a passion project. I grew up in Nelson, B.C. in the Kootenays where there are multiple dams in the region that use turbines to generate electricity,” said Podgorenko.
“My dad works on some of those dams and I developed a connection to them. It was a natural choice to pursue this kind of engineering technology work.”
ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh said the former RDC team embraced an idea long rooted in the history of engineering technology and updated it to fulfil a global commitment to identifying sources of renewable energy.
“It’s practical, flexible, cost-effective, and highly scalable, not to mention good for the planet,” Cavanaugh said.
The Pelton wheel converts the kinetic energy of the turbine (moving energy) first into mechanical energy. Then, the generator part of the system creates electricity from that through a conductor or wire wrapped around a metal core. As the core spins between two poles of a magnet, a current is induced on the wire because it is cutting through the magnetic field. The ram pump/Pelton wheel system is connected to a battery so that the energy can be stored and utilized when needed.
Electronic sensors and solenoid valves (control units which, when electrically energized or de-energized, either shut off or allow fluid flow) were included in the pump design to make it possible to view flow rates coming into and out of the pump as well as the pressure in the delivery pipe.
Water stored in a reservoir is used to run the Pelton wheel and generate a measurable amount of power. To automate as much of the design as possible, a microcontroller was installed that can open and close the valves and show the sensor readings online. If the pump and reservoir were scaled up, they could help power larger devices.
The Capstone Project of the Year Award was established by ASET in 2017 in response to overwhelming member interest in stories about Capstone projects undertaken by teams of engineering technology students from NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer College, and Lethbridge College as part of their end-of-program requirements.