BUZZARDS BAY — A small crew of Massachusetts Maritime Academy staff and employees of a hydrokinetic turbine developer set out Thursday morning on their last day of testing a 10-kilowatt underwater turbine along the Cape Cod Canal.
The classic image of a turbine looks like a fan, and many of the current commercially available water turbines fit that mold, but Thomas Feldman, the co-founder and CEO of Framingham-based turbine developer Power Development International Inc., was testing a turbine of a different sort.
The machine has four foil blades — a shape similar to an airplane wing — that stand vertically in the water. The blades are all attached to a central pole — like the agitator in a washing machine. The blades catch the water and spin the pole, which generates power, Feldman said.
The blades sit about 8 feet deep in the water; the version being tested was installed on a 24-foot long barge.
Power Development International approached the academy over the summer about a partnership. The turbine is one of a handful that have already been tested at the academy.
About six or seven cadets assisted with the project, but the week of testing was done at the end of the semester as the students started to head home for the winter break.
“They get excited when you talk hydrokinetic,” said William Hubbard, a professor at the academy who oversees the marine safety and environmental protection program.
The barge was attached to the hip of the academy’s training vessel Ranger, and the academy and the company brought the turbine out into the canal to see how it worked in an almost constant tidal flow.
Testing of tidal energy equipment is becoming common at the canal.
The Marine Renewable Energy Collaborative recently opened a permanent turbine testing facility near the Railroad Bridge and has touted the advantages of a permanent testing structure over testing turbines from barges. But Hung “Tom” Pham, the project officer for the marine operations division at the academy, said that testing on the small barge attached to the Ranger allows Power Development International to test its turbine in different conditions in different parts of the canal and ocean.
“You can bring the current to the machine,” he said.
Feldman said the testing on the canal was the first time his company has put the machine in the water, and testing had exceeded expectations.
The company’s turbine, which is substantially smaller than other commercial options, could fit in smaller spaces at existing hydroelectric plants, including in the tail races, the channels that carry water away from plants, Feldman said.
The tests at the Buzzards Bay academy will be used to determine what the turbine can handle, he said.
The academy is continuing to push further into different areas of renewable energy, already working on solar, geothermal, wind and hydro energy, and plans to expand its Center for Renewable and Responsible Energy. The academy gathers the data from all of its energy assets and displays the information on monitors in the center.
“We want to test any kind of technology,” Pham said.