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Peak performance from the Gorlov Turbine

If mankind were already technically capable of harnessing all the potential of our planet and converting it into power, there would be electrical energy in abundance. The tidal forces arising from the attraction between the moon and the world's oceans are on their own theoretically sufficient to meet annual global demand several times over.

R&D engineer Alexander Gorlov has been fascinated by the power of water ever since the sixties, when he was involved in the construction of the Aswan Dam as a Soviet adviser, a fascination which continued to pursue him when he emigrated to the USA in 1975. In 1995 he was granted a patent for a helical turbine that bears his name, which may soon help to harvest much of the energy of the tides. His turbine's special design means that it can be used not only in tidal power stations and in rivers, but also in wind power systems. In recognition of his achievement, he has now been nominated for the European Inventor Award 2011, which will be presented in Budapest on 19 May.

High energy yield

Gorlov's turbine, inspired by the Darrieus rotor of 1931, extracts up to 35% of the kinetic energy of moving water, even with a flow rate of as little as 1.5 metres per second and in only a metre of water. Compare that with the energy yield of only a little over 20% achieved by the most efficient models to date. The Gorlov Helical Turbine is also independent of dams - it can be sited in any suitable underwater location.

The secret of its high efficiency essentially lies in two features. First, its axis is positioned perpendicular to the flow, with the rotor blades arranged helically around it. Second, the blades have a profile similar to a modern aircraft wing, with the result that the rotor always turns in the same direction. In combination, these two features mean that wind or water always encounters an optimum point of impact and the device rotates roughly twice as fast as the current flows in the surrounding medium.