Waterwheel Technology Proves Efficient

It’s no secret that pollution in our waterways is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed, and waterwheel technology is proving to be an efficient solution to this issue. A recent estimate suggested that in 2010, 4.8 – 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste were discharged into the ocean from land-based sources. The Waterwheel Powered Trash Interceptor (Waterwheel) is a simple yet elegant design that may be the long-sought solution for the revitalization of trash-congested rivers and bays around the globe.

Located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Baltimore has a large community and economy that includes a vibrant waterfront, boating and fishing activities, a major seaport and other industries and sectors that rely on good quality water to flourish. The Inner Harbor is one of the most important tourist attractions in the state of Maryland and is Baltimore’s biggest attraction. With an increase in tourism to the Baltimore area, the historic problem of floating solid waste in the Harbor demanded an urgent solution. John Kellett (Clearwater Mills LLC), who has an extensive background in environmental science, boat construction, and water preservation initiatives, generated and presented his idea for a Waterwheel to officers of Baltimore City, who agreed to provide the sufficient funds to implement his project.

The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore is a non-profit organization funded by private and public stakeholders, dedicated to improved maintenance, beautification and fostering of tourism in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. The entity has stated an ambitious goal to make the Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020. With the help of the Waterwheel, this vision is becoming more feasible.

The Waterwheel is an ideal environmentally-friendly solution, able to collect up to 25 tons of floating solid waste on a daily basis while being powered exclusively by clean energy sources – hydropower and solar power. This gives the Waterwheel considerable environmental benefits when compared to other methods of screening, such as the use of motorized boats, as it is able to effectively improve water quality and local aesthetics, all with zero carbon emissions. With the ability to operate continuously and universally, the design allows for its placement to fluctuate based on the river conditions and the location of the debris and waste being taken into account. The system is particularly efficient during and after storm events when both the water flow and trash loading are at their peak.

The Waterwheel utilizes two sources of renewable green energy: hydropower from the current of the river (undercut waterwheel) and supplementary energy from solar photovoltaic panels. The solar energy is generated continuously by 30 panels and stored in battery cells to be used to pump water onto the wheel when the river current does not provide sufficient motive power to turn the wheel on its own.

The Waterwheel design is comprised of several different parts, all of which work simultaneously to efficiently remove waste from the surface of the water. The main portion of the design consists of a floating steel platform which holds the equipment and is secured by pilings that are driven into the river bottom. A covering structure is located on the platform to provide wind and rain protection to the conveyor belt and dumpster into which the waste is deposited. The cover also provides a location to mount the supplemental solar panels. Trash booms are placed in the water to guide the trash towards the mouth of the conveyor belt, which then lifts the debris from the water and carries it up to a dumpster. The dumpster is placed on a separate barge so that, when full, it can be easily maneuvered by a service boat to a boat ramp or other transfer facility, where is it then taken to a resource-recovery facility by a standard roll-off vehicle.

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Advantages over Traditional Technologies

  • The Waterwheel captures all floating trash and leakage is minimal.
  • Depending on current, it can collect up to 25 tons daily.
  • It is low cost by operating unattended during low flow periods and only requiring a crew of two operators to service the dumpster during storm events.
  • It uses green energy sources such as water current and solar panels as a power source.
  • Its detachable floating dumpster barge allows use of existing shore facilities.
  • It continuously removes trash and debris 24 hours, seven days a week.
  • The stronger the current, the faster it works.
  • The boom can be lighter and less costly due to continuous trash removal.
  • The boom may incorporate oil adsorption technology to remove floating oil and grease.
  • Due to its durable steel construction, it can last many years.
  • It can be towed and installed at another location if trash removal priorities change.
  • Its modular design allows ease of assembly and disassembly for shipping and transport

The Waterwheel was first installed in 2008 during an eight-month trial period in the mouth of the Jones Falls in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a tributary that was thought to be responsible for 80% of the trash discharged into the Harbor. This trial period demonstrated that this groundbreaking technology could effectively and economically collect and remove trash and debris from stormwater runoff before it was able to enter the Harbor. Stemming the flow of gross pollutants from the largest tributary could have a deep impact on the overall environmental condition of the harbor in the long run. The initial model used during this trial period provided engineers with the opportunity to identify areas for improvement, leading to the development of the second generation Waterwheel system which is currently being used in Baltimore.

KCI continues to explore the use of the Waterwheel to provide a green, economic solution that can be placed in a diverse array of environments and waterways in order to reduce the pollution in our world’s ecosystem.