Bio-Inspired Renewable Energy (BIRE) for Highly-efficient Low-cost Riverine Hydrokinetics

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Charlottesville, Virginia
Project Term:
08/02/2021 - 08/01/2024

Technology Description:

The University of Virginia proposes a simple, resilient, and scalable solution, inspired by unsteady lift-based hydrodynamics observed in fish swimming. By adapting the concept of biological unsteady lift, the University of Virginia’s BIRE system aims to generate energy from the river environment through real-time control of pairs of out-of-phase oscillating hydrofoils placed into oncoming flow. The river flow causes the two foils to oscillate in opposite directions. A novel power conversion mechanism converts the oscillatory motion of the foils to unidirectional rotary motion to harvest the energy. BIRE will have minimal environmental impact and easily connect to local electricity grids. The project proposes a control co-design methodology to optimize the BIRE system, introducing energy-generating opportunities in riverine environments not previously catered to by current technologies.

Potential Impact:

Hydrokinetic energy is an abundant renewable energy source that presents unique opportunities and benefits.


Diverse renewable energy resources can boost grid resiliency and reduce infrastructure vulnerabilities.


HKTs, used to capture energy from tides, rivers, canals, and ocean currents, optimize a clean, renewable power source that could help reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.


Hydrokinetic energy has applications beyond solely providing power to electrical grids. It is ideally suited to the emerging technologies and markets built upon ocean- and riverine-based infrastructure, including climatological observation, aquaculture, desalination, ocean floor and seawater mining, disaster recovery, powering isolated communities, and autonomous underwater vehicle support.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Mario Garcia-Sanz
Project Contact:
Prof. Hilary Bart-Smith
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Project Contact Email:

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