This post is part of an exclusive CleanTechnica series on the Cleantech Open Midwest winners.
At least three cleantech competitions have tagged Black Pine Woven Wheel accelerated technology as an energy-efficient turbocompressor that promises to be useful in multiple markets. The invention has won DOE’s Clean Energy Trust Challenge, the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize, and now the award for breakthrough technology from the Midwest Cleantech Open, where I first encountered this disruptive little gem (see cutaways in photo below.
Dr. Norbert Mueller, senior advisor to the Black Pine team, invented the patented Woven Wheel at Michigan State University. The low-cost, lightweight structure enables manufacture of turbines, modular compressors, and turbomachinery blades that are up to 10x cheaper and 7x lighter than those fabricated using industry-standard or any competing material. When I hefted the demo chunk, it lifted like a feather compared to its metal counterpart.
Black Pine has already bundled the Woven Wheel technology into a noncondensable gas removal turbocompressor. The Woven Wheel technology solves the problem of wasted steam in geothermal power plants. The wheel mechanically pumps the NCG out of power plant systems. All of the steam from the earth can then go through the turbine and generate power: none of it is wasted by escaping through the system.
Black Pine makes its Woven Wheel modular, stackable turbomachine units out of a single carbon fiber strand woven around a low-cost reusable mold. Integrated motor components drive down cost even further and decrease part count. The open-wheel technology increases both power output and operational efficiency of geothermal plants. A full-scale prototype has been installed for testing at a California installation. It has already been found to increase geothermal power generation by 8%.
There’s even more good news. Black Pine’s unit is designed to last the entire life of the power plant with only minimal periodic maintenance. Woven Wheels can be durable as metal turbomachinery, with added corrosion resistance as well as the cost and weight advantages. With no drive shaft, gearbox, or shaft seals, maintenance is a breeze.
The product is valuable for a number of reasons: extreme low cost, corrosion resistance, low maintenance , simplicity, and modularity. The technology has applications in many other industries, too. It has already been tested as a refrigeration compressor, water turbine, and desalination compressor.