The Melbourne lawyer reinventing the turbine wheel

Melbourne based Lawyer turned inventor Paul Kouris has come up with a simple way to create cheap energy using hydropower to its full potential.

As far as ‘Eureka moments’ go, few can top inventing a new kind of turbine (one that promises to use hydropower to its full potential), while washing the dishes. That is exactly what happened to Paul Kouris, 40 years ago, when he was still studying philosophy and law at Monash University, in Melbourne. Watching the vortex created in the sink, the young man had an epiphany, finding an answer to a debate he was having with his engineer friends, on perpetual motion and the quest for sustainable energy.

It was at that moment that he came up with the idea of a new kind of turbine, one with its wheels fully submersed in the water, working the way an egg-beater does.

For the next decades, Paul Kouris, who in the meantime pursued a career in law and is still working as a barrister, had been slowly and tirelessly working on his idea on the side, developing prototypes and securing patents in the USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, England, Spain, Portugal and Japan.

But what makes the Kouris Centri Turbine different? “Mine works, while the others don’t”, jokes the part-time inventor, before moving to explain: “Conventional turbines operate on the fall of water and the pressure of water that’s created by water falling. As a result, they need at least three meters of fall to work efficiently. My system works on the spin of water, not the fall. It only needs enough fall to make a vortex; the bigger the vortex, the more electricity it generates. It is the spinning water that creates the power. The vortex has suction, so what goes in comes out. That way, it is possible to put more than one turbines in a waterway or a river, sequentially and it is not going to slow down the flow, or flood it”.

The Kouris Centri Turbine is composed of a cylindrical chamber with an impeller placed in the centre.

Water is channelled into the container from the top left or right side (depending on which hemisphere the site is in). The container is hollow at the bottom, so as the water is fed in from one side it forms a vortex while exiting from the bottom of the turbine. The impeller revolves with the vortex’s force and the revolving impeller then powers a low rpm generator.

A proof of concept was conducted in 2004 on Mr Kouris’ private property, which leads to a state agency, Sustainability Victoria, providing a A$40,000 grant for the second proof of concept at Marysville, a small town 2 hours north-east of Melbourne, which Mr Kouris’ team funded by putting up a further Q$40,000.

“The State of Victoria has already helped me, it is supportive of renewable energy and this kind of technology; they gave me the grant to develop my pilot plant”.

This pilot plant produces 500 watt per flow, with a rate of 110 litres per second, out of a 60 centimetre fall in a 2 metre diameter tank. ”What we discovered is that a domestic KCT can make enough electricity to power a house. More importantly, it can operate 24 hours a day, and because it is small in size, it can be placed in locations where other turbines can’t work”.

The Kouris Centri Turbine is already being used in different projects in Europe, where it has been licensed and marketed. A small-scale, 5 kilowatt system costs 20,000 euros. “So, for a 20 kilowatt turbine that can power 40 houses, the cost is around 50,000 euros. To install a 20 kilowatt conventional turbine system in Australia, would cost nearly A$200,000. If you divide the outcome by the cost, the electricity becomes very cheap, at around 20 cents per kilowatt”, says the inventor.

Still, though the KCT is manufactured in Australia, there’s a long road ahead for its commercialisation. “At the moment, I’m looking for someone to come along and help with the turbine’s marketability. A licensee who would be ready to accept the challenge and do the legwork. I think it was John Lennon who said that, in order to start a revolution, you don’t need an army. One person is enough, but it has to be the right person”.