Easy Hydro: Making it simple to recover lost energy from water pipes

15 Feb 2021

Dr Daniele Novara, managing director of Easy Hydro. Image: Trinity College Dublin

This Trinity spin-out is turning what would be lost potential into electrical power with low-cost water turbines.

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Originally from Italy, Dr Daniele Novara built on a BSc and MSc in energy engineering plus an MSc in energy management and business by embarking on a PhD in civil engineering at Trinity College Dublin. During this course of study, he was selected along with six other international experts to participate in a European Commission workshop on emerging technologies in the field of hydropower. Two years later, he helped founded Easy Hydro.

“Easy Hydro designs and supplies an innovative renewable energy technology consisting of low-cost and durable water turbines,” explained Novara, who is managing director of the start-up, which is based at Trinity College Dublin.

“Unlike conventional hydropower technologies, our water turbines are available off the shelf and do not need the creation of an artificial reservoir to operate.”

Novara said this makes Easy Hydro’s turbines particularly suitable to recover energy from existing water pipelines. “Virtually all water networks have control valves in which excessive pressure is being dissipated as heat and noise. As it turns out, these locations are ideal for installing an Easy Hydro turbine to convert such lost potential into electrical power which can be then self-consumed or sold to the grid.”

This disruptive technology could allow Easy Hydro customers to generate clean renewable electricity, which would reduce both energy costs and carbon emissions. Potential clients for these turbines would be water and energy-intensive businesses, spanning sectors such as mining, irrigation, manufacturing and food processing.

“All of these organisations operate large internal water networks from which electricity can be conveniently recovered,” said Novara.

‘The cumulative potential for this kind of energy recovery is outstanding’

A single Easy Hydro turbine can generate up to 600 kilowatts of energy, which would be enough to power more than 300 households. This scales quickly with the potential to install several units at different locations.

“The cumulative potential for this kind of energy recovery is outstanding,” said Novara. “The generation capacity of our technology just from drinking water networks across the EU is equivalent to over two gigawatts, corresponding to the size of a large nuclear power station.”

Easy Hydro is the product of experience gained from several EU-funded research projects. Novara is one of four founders, all of whom have been working together in the area of hydraulic energy recovery for the past four years.

Novara and Dr Miguel Crespo Chacon serve as design engineers at the company. Crespo Chacon has an academic background in civil engineering and micro-hydropower solutions in irrigation water networks, as well as experience as a project engineer in international hydraulic constructions.

Prof Aonghus McNabola and Prof Paul Coughlan complete the foursome of founders and serve as directors at the company. McNabola has 13 years’ experience working in research and technology development and has a PhD in environmental fluid dynamics, while Coughlan is a researcher on several projects devising energy-saving devices for the water services sector.

Illustration showing how Easy Hydro connects a water turbine to existing water pipe infrastructure.

Image: Easy Hydro

Easy Hydro’s water turbines consist of standard water pumps running in reverse mode, which means they cost a fraction of conventional water turbines and are easier to maintain and service.

“It usually comes as part of a retrofitting kit consisting of turbine, valves, and electrical and control equipment to be placed in parallel to an existing water control valve,” Novara explained. “They come already certified for use with potable water, and can be supplied with parts in cast iron, stainless steel, bronze or duplex.”

‘Starting a new venture during the beginning of a global pandemic posed some immediate logistical challenges, but we managed to turn them into opportunities’

Founded in December 2019, the company began operations in mid-2020, which came with one obvious setback. “Starting a new venture during the beginning of a global pandemic posed some immediate logistical challenges, but we managed to turn them into opportunities by focusing first on developing the structure of the company, streamlining the design practices and securing a supply chain,” said Novara.

Even with this initial hurdle to overcome, customer engagement after six months in operation “exceeded even the most optimistic expectations”, according to Novara.

In November, the company was awarded a grant from EU consortium EIT RawMaterials to pilot the technology inside Europe’s largest zinc mine – Boliden’s Tara Mines in Navan. And, as of the beginning of this month, Easy Hydro had more than 30 live projects with customers from 12 countries and was also in the process of negotiating several distribution agreements.

In fact, Novara said the global shift from in-person to online meetings saved the company a substantial amount of travel expenses as many potential customers are located in South Africa, Scandinavia, the US and Canada.

With a solid client base in place, the company is now focused on market validation and customer development. “But within six to 12 months from now we will look to raise investment in order to expand the team and boost the growth of the company,” Novara said.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.