Bright Idea: Water Power

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Our growing dependence on such devices as smartphones has made it increasingly important for us to have easy access to power. So inventor Burt Hammer has developed the HydroBee, a USB battery charger that can tap the energy of flowing water — from, say, a faucet or a stream — the sun or even a bicycle to recharge the battery for a cellphone, a tablet or an LED lamp in a matter of hours. 

Hammer founded Seattle-based HydroBee SPC in 2013 with cofounder Dane Roth, an engineer with Sonicare. The company designed the Hydro-Bee’s sleek look on a computer, then used a  3D printer to build it. The product uses a tiny turbine roughly the size of a soda can. Flowing water spins a rotor, which powers a waterproof generator, giving charge to a 5-volt battery. The turbine produces enough energy to power two USB 3.0 ports. 

“The HydroBee is for people who live off the grid,” Hammer says. He also hopes to target agriculturalists who could use it to monitor anything from animal inventory to property surveillance for potential trespassers. And the portable charger would be a crucial asset to campers, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts looking to keep their gear operating in the wilderness. 

The HydroBee has made waves in initial testing, and has achieved honors as a semifinalist in the Cleantech Open, 43North and Sustainable Entrepreneur competitions. Much of its funding has come from crowdfunding sources like Fledge and Indiegogo. 

Hammer has two HydroBee products he hopes will hit the market in December. The StreamBee uses flowing water to charge the battery and the BikeBee uses a bicycle’s spinning wheel to do the same. Despite the easy accessibility of changeable parts for potential competitors, Hammer is confident that early branding in an otherwise unoccupied niche will drive HydroBee forward. 

“Success in developing countries where hundreds of millions of people need the product will depend on logistics and partnerships,” says Hammer, “not on the technology itself.” 

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