On December 18, 2020, 11 winners were announced for the Innovations in Advanced Manufacturing for Hydropower (I AM Hydro) Prize, a competition designed to award ideas that have the potential to dramatically lower costs and increase performance of hydropower components and system designs by leveraging advanced manufacturing principles and practices. Each winner, out of a prize pool of $175,000, received a cash prize to further evolve and develop their concept throughout 2021. Ideas were scored based on innovation, impact, and feasibility. The top-placing innovation was Cadens LLC’s “Utility of Large Area AM for Small Hydro,” which involves the design and construction of 3D-printed turbine components via additive manufacturing to produce a low-cost, readily customizable, modular small hydropower system. Other prize-winning concepts included retrofitting of nonpowered dams using 3D concrete printing, additive manufacturing technology paired with modern advances in robotics to enable superior repair, antifouling coating for hydropower cost reductions, and more.

Over the last decade, advanced manufacturing has helped revolutionize the energy sector, offering a boost to the U.S. manufacturing industry and opening pathways to increase American competitiveness. Novel applications of advanced manufacturing have ushered in benefits in other energy sectors such as wind and solar and helped industries reach economies of scale and mass production; however, the potential applications for hydropower remain largely unexplored, and thus the benefits remain untapped.

Grand prize winner of the I AM Hydro Prize, Team Cadens Hydro, completes post-print processing, fabrication, fit, and finishing steps
To link automated design to additive manufacturing, the grand prize winner of the I AM Hydro Prize, Team Cadens Hydro, completes post-print processing, fabrication, fit, and finishing steps.
Courtesy of Randal J. Mueller, Team Cadens Hydro, I AM Hydro Prize

WPTO designed this single-stage competition, part of the American-Made Challenges series, as a means of identifying high-impact opportunities to apply advanced manufacturing processes and materials to improve conventional hydropower manufacturing—enhancing design flexibility, decreasing energy consumption, lowering costs, and reducing time to market. The prize solicited ideas for advanced manufacturing applications with specific interest in the following categories: joining, coating, and repair; additive and composite manufacturing; casting, forming, and machining; and advanced materials.

The I AM Hydro Prize was designed to:

  • Catalyze the use of advanced manufacturing to drive down levelized costs of hydropower by seeking solutions that can dramatically lower initial capital costs and/or increase annual energy production
  • Inform WPTO’s future investments by identifying targeted, high-impact opportunities to apply advances in manufacturing to address hydropower’s critical challenges, which may be used to inform future funding opportunities
  • Bring new innovators into the hydropower sector and help form partnerships and collaborations between industry, academia, and government to accelerate innovative advanced manufacturing technologies for hydropower.

Funded by WPTO and administered by NREL and ORNL, the I AM Hydro Prize launched in June 2020 and accepted submissions through October. For a full list of winning concepts, prize teams, and next steps, visit the American-Made Challenges I AM Hydro Prize page.

For additional information, contact Al LiVecchi.

Innovations for Low-Impact Hydropower Growth Success Stories