3D-printed micro-hydroelectric power generators for sewage treatment plants

Ricoh, a Japanese multinational imaging and electronics company, has developed 3D-printed micro-hydroelectric power generators for sewage treatment plants in collaboration with Seabell Incorporated and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. The generators are capable of producing several kW of electricity and significantly reducing production time and cost.

Sewage treatment plants consume a considerable amount of electric power, which is used to keep the microorganisms active in the water. This power consumption costs approximately 110 billion yen in electricity bills annually. The current micro-hydroelectric power generation equipment used at these plants pose issues such as low turbine efficiency and output, high purchase and installation costs, significant equipment burden on-site personnel, and difficulty in using in environments that exacerbate rusting.

To address these issues, Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) is currently engaged in technology demonstrations and applied research to realize green innovation in sewerage systems. Ricoh participated in a study on micro-hydroelectric power generation in sewage facilities utilizing 3D printers within the framework of applied research on sewerage led by MLIT, and submitted a completion report in March 2023.

The study verified the usability of the 3D-printed micro-hydroelectric power generators at a sewage treatment plant through industry-academia collaboration with Seabell Incorporated and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. The water turbine shape was designed in collaboration with Seabell Incorporated, a manufacturer specializing in low-head micro-hydroelectric power generators, and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology. Demonstration experiments were conducted at a sewage treatment plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan.

The micro-hydroelectric power generator used features two generators mounted on a single unit, allowing efficient power generation. Additionally, as an open type device, the waterwheel can be placed directly in the existing waterway, eliminating the need to construct a new bypass waterway for hydroelectric power generation and reducing construction cost.

Ricoh’s 3D printer technology was used to create a micro-hydroelectric generator incorporating 3D printed blades made of biomass-derived materials. Compared to a water turbine made from commonly used 3D printer materials, the turbine is more than twice as strong as a metal turbine. It was found that the strength was maintained even after being placed underwater for a long period of time and could be used for large-scale hydroelectric power generation.

The study generated several kW of electricity using equipment with blades 25% lighter and main bodies 15% lighter than conventional metal hydroelectric power generation devices. The study also significantly shortened the production period from roughly one month to three days. The waterwheel part is made of resin for improved underwater durability.

The electricity generated by these devices is expected to be used as emergency power supply at the disaster prevention centers within sewage treatment plants, and battery systems that provide power for mobility, as well as in crawler-type automatic inspection robots. In addition to installing micro-hydroelectric power generators at sewage treatment plants in Japan, Ricoh will continue to study the possibility of introducing the technology in Europe, the United States, and emerging economies.

Ricoh’s development of 3D-printed micro-hydroelectric power generators for sewage treatment plants is a remarkable achievement that has the potential to revolutionize the way we generate electricity. With its commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, Ricoh is leading the way in creating innovative solutions that benefit society and the environment.