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Renewable energy twist on old tech earns award for Nelson native

Tyler Podgorenko and three others invented a way for ram pumps to generate electricity
Nelson’s Tyler Podgorenko (left) and his father Ron, who works on local FortisBC dams. Podgorenko is one of four students honoured for a water pump design that generated electricity. Photo: Submitted

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it? The old adage doesn’t fly with Tyler Podgorenko.

The 24-year-old Nelson native and three other students at Red Deer College have been honoured for rethinking a technology that has its origins in ancient Egypt.

Podgorenko, Spencer Otto, Michael Nosterud and James Greenough have discovered a way for ram pumps, which are designed to move water to higher elevations, to also generate clean energy.

The invention earned them the Capstone Project of the Year Award last month from the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET).

“Our focus was just really taking this centuries-old device, modernizing it and adding some aspects that we learned in our technologists school, and trying to add that extra outcome of the renewable energy source,” says Podgorenko.

“Our design ended up catching some eyes.”

Ram pumps have been used in one form or another since the Greek inventor Ctesibius of Alexandria, who lived from 285 to 222 BC, used air to force water through pipes with what he called a hydraulis.

The modern design of ram pumps meanwhile originate from the 1776 design of Joseph-Michel Montgolfier, who also co-invented the first hot air balloon with his brother.

Podgorenko said the reimagining of the ram pump was one of several projects proposed by his professor. The team use a solenoid valve, which opens and closes with an electrical current, to release the water. It then flows through a Pelton wheel that acts as a turbine, which in turn generates renewable electricity.

The team also added a battery to store the electricity, sensors to show flow rate and a microcontroller to automate the opening and closing of valves.

It’s not clear how much electricity it generates — the team was forced to go home by COVID-19 before it could finish testing — but Podgorenko says the pump was designed with rural farms and homes in mind, or for developing nations.

This ram pump designed by Tyler Podgorenko, Spencer Otto, Michael Nosterud and James Greenough uses a Pelton wheel to generate electricity. Photo: Submitted

The final result, which beat out projects from engineering technology students at Alberta’s four polytechnics and colleges, impressed ASET’s CEO Barry Cavanaugh.

“I have to say when I saw this and realized what it was, I thought, my god, how come nobody ever thought of this before?” says Cavanaugh.

“And I guess that’s true of most good inventions, right? Every time somebody comes up with a great idea, everybody says, ‘Where did that come from?’ And the truth is that it’s just the application of that kind of intelligence and that almost intuitive inquisitiveness that goes with people in this profession.”

It also helps that water and electricity run in Podgorenko’s family.

His father Ron works for FortisBC on West Kootenay dams. After he graduated from Nelson’s L.V. Rogers, Podgorenko was looking for some direction when Ron took him to a dam. The trip made an impression.

“It was something that I really found interesting and it really fascinated me and it inspired me to take this path on,” he says.

@tyler_harper |
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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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