ORNL scientists working to ensure future power sources don't harm wildlife

8:48 PM, Dec 20, 2012   |    comments
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  • Courtesy: Verdant Power
    

The Department of Energy is pushing hydro-power turbines as one way to create renewable energy.

They have tasked scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to solve the environmental problems that come from the new, underwater technologies.

Senior Scientist Dr. Mark Bevelhimer, is heading up the studies.

"There's a lot of concern about how those technologies affect certain fish species. The species that are of most concern are those at the lowest numbers," he said.

They have brought several species of concern into their aquatic ecology lab, including three species of sturgeon and paddle fish to see how they are affected.  Some of the species are both endangered and prehistoric.

The new hydrokinetic turbines come in a variety of shapes.

"Some of them spin side ways, some of them look like underwater windmills, some of them look like jet engines," Dr. Bevelhimer said.

But they also come with a variety of potential problems for the fish.

"Some include fish actually being struck by the blades of the turbine, some of the concern is with things like how much noise they [the turbines] make, the electromagnetic fields that come from the magnets in them, and the power lines that run from these turbines under water," he said.

Dr. Bevelhimer still has many more tests to run in the lab and in outdoor ponds before his results are complete. Then he says they'll go out in the field for more tests.

He said in order for the DOE to issue permits for the hydropower turbines, his testing must prove fish will not be negatively affected. He said right now there are mostly "test sites" for turbines in our nation's rivers-- including one in West Tennessee.

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