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Inventors harness energy in the babbling brooks of Europe

Czech inventor Miroslav Sedlacek happened on a workable idea while relaxing by a Morovian brook -- turning the energy of swirling eddies into electricity

DPA , PRAGUE

On a lazy day some years ago, Czech inventor Miroslav Sedlacek was relaxing by a Moravian brook when a swirling current of water suddenly caught his attention.

It was a gentle whirlpool, spinning slowly in an eddy.

As the water turned, Sedlacek's mind drifted until he began wondering whether the energy in that little brook -- and thousands of other brooks worldwide -- could be converted into electricity.

Now, 15 years on, Sedlacek and his Slovak engineer colleague Stanislav Hostin have received patents and international recognition for a unique hydroelectric power machine.

The two garage-shop inventors tinkered for years and received EU assistance to develop the Setur turbine -- a small machine that converts the energy flowing down babbling brooks, creeks and streams into electricity.

In a recent interview, Sedlacek predicted that the invention may one day revolutionize life in third-world communities, from African villages to Asian rice farms, where electricity is either too expensive or non-existent.

A Setur turbine resting in the current of a small stream can generate about 10 kilowatt-hours per day -- enough to meet the daily needs of five energy-guzzling European families or an entire African village.

"The world won't be building any more big, hydroelectric power plants," Sedlacek explained. "We're convinced that in a few years people will have to start using these small water sources for energy."

The energy in small streams "has always been there," he added. "But it's not used."

The device resembles a buoy and generates power from a stream's natural flow. Water entering the bottom of the Setur chamber exerts upward pressure on a cup fixed to a generator shaft.

The cup rotates, the shaft turns and the generator makes electricity. Unlike most hydropower machines, Setur has no blades.

An early version of the device boasted a maximum efficiency rate of 50 percent, but Sedlacek said the latest Setur is 70 percent efficient.

And although electricity can be produced in a brook moving as slowly as 2 liters per second, water flowing between 22 liters and 33 liters per second produces the best results.

Sedlacek and Hostin envision their machine going to work in rural parts of the third world. Units could be used to charge batteries for family homes or run irrigation pumps on farms.

Setur operates according to a hydrodynamic principle that is still not fully understood, Sedlacek said. But he and Hostin have received European and US patents, and they won prizes for the discovery at European engineering fairs in 2002 and last year.

So far, a limited version of Setur is produced only by a small Czech company. However the device is being actively promoted for wider, private-sector production by the Czech Academy of Sciences' Technology Centre as well as through the EU's Phare program.

Sedlacek said he is "not waiting for a big profit," even if the invention becomes popular. But he would like to see people benefit from the years of effort behind Setur.

So-called "microenergy" power sources will become increasingly important as electric demand rises and outstrip traditional sources of energy, Sedlacek said.

Currently, Sedlacek said, 10 Setur models are being tested by researchers across Europe.

It is hoped the tests will lead to business agreements that eventually make the invention available to anyone who appreciates the energy potential of a babbling brook.

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