SHARKS BladeRunner deployment at Tanana River Test Site

Field testing of the BladeRunner Energy hydrokinetic turbine.
Photo by Cassandra Ellis/ACEP
Ben Loeffler deploys the BladeRunner Energy system at the Tanana River Test Site near Nenana during testing this summer.

September 20, 2023

The third summer of field testing the BladeRunner Energy hydrokinetic turbine took place in June and August at ACEP’s Tanana River Hydrokinetic Test Site (TRTS) near Nenana. BladeRunner Energy’s work is in partnership with ACEP’s Submarine Hydrokinetic and Riverine Kilo-megawatt Systems (SHARKS) project, which aims to develop a debris-resilient and material-efficient hydrokinetic turbine.

The BladeRunner design places the turbine rotor at the end of a flexible but torsionally stiff cable that allows the turbine to submerge while keeping the generator housing on the water surface. This unique system architecture aims to address the multiple hurdles that exist for deploying hydrokinetic devices in remote riverine locations, with the management of debris being a key factor.

In 2023 alone, over 40 hours of instrumented operation was completed in a variety of system configurations. This was the third iteration of the BladeRunner system.

The testing of the turbine this summer put the flexible cable design to the test with removal of the riverine debris deflector designed by hydrokinetic researchers at ACEP to reduce exposure to large trees and other floating debris that have shown to impact turbine designs in the Tanana River.

The testing also worked on refining the ballast required in the turbine for optimal performance.

Ben Loeffler, who leads ACEP’s hydrokinetic research, noted the significance of the result.

“Most importantly, the BladeRunner Energy turbine had multiple significant debris interactions with no damage or reduction in performance,” he said.

SHARKS is one of 11 projects awarded under $35 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-e) to develop high-risk, high-potential approaches to riverine and tidal energy.

ARPA-e director Evelyn Wang and deputy director Shane Kosinski visited the test site and observed testing firsthand. Brian Page and Dan Rogers of the SHARKS project team also attended multiple days of testing.  

The project team also benefitted from visits from Native Village of Napaimute’s Dan Gillikin and Alaska Village Electric Cooperative’s Aimie Survant and Bailey Gamble as ACEP and BladeRunner seek to better anticipate the work needed to transition the technology from testing at TRTS to a pilot deployment in a remote community.