The broader impacts of this Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project is to support reservoir de-silting. The nation has a number of dams and reservoirs to produce low cost-electricity. However, sediments transported every year by floods consume the storage capacity of dams and must be removed. For example, the Hoover Dam is full to a depth of only 90 ft. Similarly, some 1430 dams are at risk of collapsing or overflowing from floods, such as the Prado Dam and Mojave Dam in California, and two dams collapsed in Michigan in 2020, flooding towns and displacing thousands of residents. Traditional dredging costs $20-70 per cubic yard and poses a major barrier to restoring the storage capacities of those dams. This project will reduce the cost to $8 per cubic yard by switching from a slurry to a capsule technology. The payback would be in the 1% power capacity restored from lower sediment accumulation. This could also protect turbines from erosion.
This SBIR Phase I project advances translation of a system to address sediment accumulation. The proposed project represents an extension of technologies to move pressed coal logs. The sediments are first pumped to shore from a depth of 50-200 ft. They are dewatered in settling ponds and excess water is returned to the reservoir. The dewatered sediments are then packed into large plastic capsules and sent to a dedicated pipeline some 30 miles away from the dam. Since the capsule is streamlined, it needs little water to be supported in the pipeline by hydrodynamic forces. For this purpose, a new natural gas fired capsule pump is developed; this liquid piston pump engine can pump up to 60 million gallons per day; it is also compact and does not need a complex system of locks and pump bypasses. It can be easily relocated to a new site and operates on low-cost natural gas. This transition from slurry to capsule pipeline technology represents a cost-effective method.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.