The Department of Energy has awarded the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory nearly $300,000 to develop the next generation of PNNL’s “Sensor Fish,” which measure the hydraulic forces and physical contacts with structures that fish may experience as they pass through hydropower dam turbines.
Dam operators have used data collected by the device to help develop fish-friendly turbines, which can increase hydropower generation, decrease licensing costs and improve a dam’s environmental performance.
This funding allows PNNL researchers to design a smaller, less expensive Sensor Fish that can be used in more places.
Until now, the Sensor Fish has primarily been used to study U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-operated dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Broader use has been limited due to the device’s size and other aspects.
This project’s goal is to design an improved Sensor Fish that can be sent through a wider variety of turbines (including full-scale dams that are already operating, as well as models and scaled prototypes). The new design could also work with tidal and pumped-storage power projects.
The new design will make the device self-navigating, meaning it would automatically rise to the river’s surface for retrieval after passing through a turbine.
The current design relies on externally attached balloons to do this, but the balloons are expensive and can be cumbersome. The end-goal is to license the new design to a private company so that more institutions and scientists can use the Sensor Fish in their own research.
The Corps’ Portland District also expects to use the new Sensor Fish at their dams as part of the Anadromous Fish Evaluation Program.
DOE’s Sensor Fish award was announced as part of a larger round of funding for advanced hydropower technologies research.