Tulane University has just won a $3 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to build RiverSphere, a renewable energy center that will focus on developing new hydrokinetic turbines. The project includes floating barge facilities that will be available to private technology companies for testing prototype hydrokinetic turbines in the slow moving currents of the Mississippi.
Hydrokinetic turbines are emerging as a more sustainable way to draw power from water, compared to conventional hydropower which involves building dams to create intense water pressure. Hydrokinetic turbines can operate on the available current in natural waterways as well as canals and other manmade streams, and they can be tethered in place with minimal disruption of the surrounding environment.
Tulane University and RiverSphere
The test barges will serve as the first “vendor-neutral” hydrokinetic test site in the U.S., which should offer a big boost in terms of cutting research and developments costs, as well as helping companies to collect data that will support eventual commercialization. In addition to serving as a port for test barges, RiverSphere will include sustainability labs devoted to the hydrology and ecology of the Lower Mississippi River Deltaic Plain and exhibition space focusing on the revitalization of the new Orleans riverfront.
RiverSphere and Green Jobs
The $3 million grant comes from disaster appropriations related to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and it’s an excellent example of combining sustainability technology, academic excellence and private enterprise to revitalize a community by creating and exporting new green jobs. It’s a sharp contrast to the impact of fossil fuels (namely coal) on their host communities. RiverSphere’s focus on sustainability extends to the center’s construction, which instead of relying on new building will primarily consist in repurposing an existing 22,000 foot warehouse.
Image: Mississippi River by Ray Devlin on flickr.com.