Fish-Friendly Turbines

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Fish-friendly turbines are hydropower turbines designed to minimize the impact on fish populations by reducing fish mortality and injury during turbine passage. These turbines incorporate innovative designs and technologies to create a safer environment for fish while maintaining efficient energy generation.

Impact on climate action

Fish-Friendly Turbines in Hydropower promote climate action by minimizing ecological impact and maintaining aquatic biodiversity. By reducing fish mortality rates and improving migration pathways, these turbines ensure sustainable hydropower generation, mitigating habitat disruption, and contributing to the preservation of ecosystems amidst the transition to renewable energy sources.


  • Reduced Blade Strike: Traditional turbine designs can cause fish mortality due to blade strike, where fish collide with the rotating blades. Fish-friendly turbines minimize blade strike by using slower rotational speeds, smaller runner diameters, and optimized blade shapes and angles.
  • Improved Hydraulic Conditions: Fish-friendly turbines aim to create smoother and more uniform flow conditions within the turbine, reducing turbulence and shear forces that can injure or disorient fish.
  • Behavioral Guidance: Some fish-friendly turbine designs incorporate features that guide fish away from the turbine blades, such as using lights, sound, or bubble curtains to create a deterrent.
  • Fish Passage Solutions: Fish ladders, fish bypass channels, and other passage solutions allow fish to safely bypass hydropower dams and turbines, mitigating the impact on fish migration and populations.

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Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Blade Designs: Researchers and startups are developing fish-friendly turbine blade designs that minimize blade strike and improve hydraulic conditions. This includes using bio-inspired designs based on the swimming patterns of fish and optimizing blade shapes and angles to reduce turbulence and shear forces.
  • Variable-Speed Operation: Variable-speed turbines can adjust their rotational speed to match varying water flow conditions, reducing blade strike risk and improving fish survival rates.
  • Advanced Fish Guidance Systems: Innovative fish guidance systems, such as light-based or acoustic deterrents, are being developed to guide fish away from turbine intakes and towards safe passage routes.
  • Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Modeling: CFD simulations are used to analyze and optimize turbine designs, predicting their impact on fish passage and survival.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Enhanced Fish Passage Technologies
  • Blade Strike Reduction Strategies
  • Innovative Hydraulic Engineering
  • Bio-inspired Turbine Designs
  • Adaptive Turbine Operation Systems
  • Optimal Blade Geometry Solutions
  • Fish Behavior Analysis Techniques
  • Computational Modeling Applications
  • Hydrodynamics Optimization Methods
  • Light-based Fish Guidance Systems
  • Flexible Tube Fish Passage Solutions

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Natel Energy:
    • Technology Enhancement: Natel Energy develops fish-friendly hydroelectric turbines designed to minimize the environmental impact on aquatic ecosystems while harnessing the power of water for renewable energy generation. Their innovative turbines feature advanced design elements such as low head, low impact, and fish passage-friendly characteristics, ensuring safe passage for fish and aquatic organisms.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Natel Energy stands out for its commitment to sustainable hydropower development and its focus on environmental stewardship. Their fish-friendly turbines incorporate cutting-edge engineering and ecological principles to balance energy production with wildlife conservation, making them suitable for a wide range of hydroelectric projects in rivers and streams.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Natel Energy serves hydropower developers, utilities, and conservation organizations seeking environmentally friendly solutions for renewable energy generation. Their fish-friendly turbines are deployed in small-scale and low-impact hydroelectric projects, providing clean energy while preserving aquatic habitats and biodiversity.
  • Alden Research Laboratory:
    • Technology Enhancement: Alden Research Laboratory specializes in hydraulic modeling, testing, and design of hydroelectric turbines and water infrastructure. They collaborate with hydropower developers, utilities, and regulatory agencies to assess the environmental impact of hydropower projects and develop fish-friendly turbine solutions. Their expertise in fluid dynamics and aquatic ecology ensures the design and optimization of turbines that are safe for fish passage.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Alden Research Laboratory stands out for its extensive experience and multidisciplinary approach to hydropower engineering and environmental assessment. They provide customized solutions tailored to the specific needs and challenges of each hydropower project, ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements and ecological objectives.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Alden Research Laboratory serves a diverse range of clients involved in hydropower development, including project developers, utilities, government agencies, and environmental organizations. Their services support the planning, design, and operation of fish-friendly turbines and hydroelectric facilities, promoting sustainable energy generation and aquatic ecosystem conservation.
  • Canadian Hydro Components:
    • Technology Enhancement: Canadian Hydro Components specializes in the design and manufacturing of hydroelectric turbines and components optimized for fish passage and environmental sustainability. Their turbines feature innovative blade designs, fish-friendly intake structures, and debris management systems to minimize adverse impacts on fish and aquatic habitats.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Canadian Hydro Components stands out for its expertise in turbine engineering and its focus on integrating fish-friendly features into hydroelectric systems. They offer customizable turbine solutions tailored to site-specific conditions and regulatory requirements, ensuring compatibility with fish migration patterns and habitat requirements.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Canadian Hydro Components serves hydropower developers, utilities, and government agencies involved in the planning, construction, and operation of hydroelectric projects. Their fish-friendly turbines and components are deployed in both new installations and retrofit projects, enhancing the sustainability and ecological compatibility of hydropower generation.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL):
    • Research Focus: PNNL is a leader in research on Fish-Friendly Turbines, focusing on developing advanced turbine designs and operational strategies to minimize the impact of hydropower generation on aquatic ecosystems, particularly fish populations.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves the development and testing of innovative turbine blade designs, flow control mechanisms, and fish passage technologies aimed at reducing fish mortality, injury, and disruption to migration patterns. They also conduct comprehensive hydrodynamic modeling, bioacoustic studies, and field experiments to assess turbine-fish interactions and optimize turbine performance.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in existing and new hydropower facilities, particularly those located in environmentally sensitive areas or fish migration corridors. By incorporating fish-friendly turbine technologies, PNNL’s research helps mitigate the environmental impacts of hydropower generation while maintaining renewable energy production and ecosystem services.
  • University of Washington:
    • Research Focus: The University of Washington conducts innovative research on Fish-Friendly Turbines, leveraging its expertise in fluid dynamics, fish biology, and renewable energy engineering to develop holistic solutions for enhancing fish passage and survival in hydropower environments.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the design optimization of turbine components, such as blade shape, spacing, and inlet configurations, to reduce shear forces, pressure changes, and turbulence levels that can harm fish. They also investigate the use of acoustic deterrents, behavioral modeling, and habitat restoration measures to guide fish away from turbine intakes and improve their overall migratory success.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in retrofitting existing turbines and designing new hydroelectric projects to comply with environmental regulations and licensing requirements. By promoting fish-friendly turbine technologies, the University of Washington’s research contributes to the sustainability of hydropower generation and the preservation of aquatic biodiversity.
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU):
    • Research Focus: NTNU is engaged in cutting-edge research on Fish-Friendly Turbines, drawing on its expertise in hydropower engineering, marine biology, and renewable energy innovation to develop eco-friendly solutions for hydropower operations.
    • Uniqueness: Their research focuses on the integration of biological monitoring systems, hydroacoustic sensors, and machine learning algorithms to assess fish behavior, passage routes, and injury risk in the vicinity of hydropower installations. They also explore the use of turbine optimization algorithms, adaptive management strategies, and habitat enhancement measures to enhance fish passage efficiency and ecosystem resilience.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in hydropower projects worldwide, particularly in regions where fish migration and habitat conservation are critical concerns. By advancing fish-friendly turbine technologies, NTNU’s research supports the sustainable development of hydropower resources while preserving aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem services.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Fish-friendly turbines are being increasingly implemented in new and existing hydropower projects around the world. For example, Natel Energy’s fish-safe turbines have been installed in several hydropower projects in the United States and Europe.