Of Bathtubs and Underground Channels – Generating Energy from Wastewater

Steinbeis supervises innovation project for environmentally friendly power generation

Each day, the average inhabitant of Germany uses roughly 3,900 liters of water – the equivalent of nearly 24 bathtubs. Of course, trade and industry account for the lion’s share of this figure. These vast volumes of wastewater flow through 550,000 kilometers of sewage channels. Having exploited nearly every means of generating renewable energy above ground, wastewater is rushing relatively undisturbed through these sewage channels. The Steinbeis Consulting Center for Strategy & Innovation has supported a young company in its development of an innovative turbine for generating energy from this wastewater.

There have already been a number of attempts to generate energy from wastewater. It was assumed that this would provide a relatively cheap and environmentally friendly source of power thanks to wastewater’s nearly ubiquitous and decentralized availability. The energy production systems would not cause any unsightly changes in the landscape since they would be installed underground. Expensive fish and wildlife protection measures required for similar systems in natural waters would also be unnecessary. But wastewater does require a number of highly specialized technical systems: sand, debris, toilet paper and other waste, or larger obstructions such as sticks or even old bicycles are sometimes found in the sewage system. Then there are the strong variations in water levels and expensive engineering costs which often torpedo the high hopes for such solutions.

Tobias Bergmann is the founder of Blue Synergy GmbH, which is based in Lindau on the shores of Lake Constance. His company previously specialized in generating heating and cooling solutions through wastewater, but he quickly recognized the untapped potential for generating energy as well. Without a doubt, this would entail extensive research and development for his still budding company. As a graduate of the Steinbeis MBA program, it seemed natural to carry out this innovative project together with the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Strategy & Innovation from day one, especially considering that the center is also located on Lake Constance in Langenargen.

Together with Dr. Michael Wannke, director of the consulting center, Tobias Bergmann fleshed out the idea in terms of the technical requirements and captured this in a patent strategy. The project team was able to garner extensive research funding from the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) to develop their highly innovative technology for generating environmentally friendly energy. The R&D activities would hardly have been possible without this funding. The company also managed to find a project partner for the pilot phase: one of the largest municipal drainage operators in Germany. And initial investors quickly showed interest in the project. Finally, at the start of 2014, spotlights illuminated a room with energy created from wastewater.

Nearly three years of development was channeled into the new wastewater turbine: the BlueSyn® One, a unit specially designed for the medium of wastewater. The novelty of this turbine lies in its design as an outrunner. The blades line the outer edge in a circular design while the mid-section of the turbine stays free. This allows the flowing wastewater to drive the blades while obstructive objects can simply pass through the turbine without too much difficulty. Thanks to this design and a few other technical tricks, the turbine can run continuously with very little need for maintenance. The wastewater turbine was designed for standard sewage canals. In contrast to conventional hydroelectric plants, it can be installed where necessary without great effort within only a few hours. And since wastewater is freely available, it is an incredibly costeffective way to generate power. In the meantime, several municipalities and urban wastewater operators, as well as private companies, have inquired about installing the turbines.

Tobias Bergmann has won several founders’ awards and innovation prizes for his work, but he does not intend to rest on these laurels. Further patents are already “in the pipeline” and a number of additional application scenarios for the wastewater turbine are on the horizon – there’s no question that he will once again turn to the support of the Steinbeis experts for his up-and-coming innovation projects.

Contact

Dr. Michael Wannke
Steinbeis Consulting Center Strategy & Innovation (Langenargen)
michael.wannke@stw.de

Tobias Bergmann
Blue Synergy GmbH (Lindau)
info@blue-synergy.de

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