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October 5, 2020

UIT’s Burraq project can generate power from storm water drains

Karachi

October 5, 2020

The Usman Institute of Technology’s (UIT) aspiring electrical engineers have designed a project that can significantly help alleviate Karachi’s power woes by sharing the burden of K-Electric, the city’s sole power supplier.

Majoring in power, Saad Sarmad, 22, Zafeer Ahmed, 23, Abdullah Ali, 23, and Malik Muhammad, 23, have come up with a cost-effective, low-maintenance electricity generation and distribution equipment, named Burraq, for their final-year project.

Burraq can produce up to 1,000 watts from the water flow of the city’s different storm water drains. Their supervisor Prof Dr Abdul Qadir believes the project can generate far more energy with more robust equipment.

The quartet wanted to do something about power generation and distribution, so they looked for different resources, such as wind and sun, but decided to do something with water because it is seemingly available round the clock.

“We have designed a device for power generation that is portable and very effective for domestic use,” said Sarmad in an interview with The News. “The equipment is for run of the river,” explained Prof Qadir.

It is only used in Canada for power production. “But they have different technologies and they constructed it in 12 years, while we did it in four months at a cost of Rs150,000,” said Ahmed. The project was funded by the Ignite National Technology Fund. Since the project has moved beyond its design and testing phases, Prof Qadir pointed out, its construction cost would now reduce to roughly Rs50,000.

The four young men ran from pillar to post to give their design a physical shape. From Ranchore Line to Lalu Khet and Sher Shah, said Muhammad, they went to every nook and cranny of the city to get the best rates from welders. “They only did the welding, while the design and moulding dimensions were done by us.”

Burraq has small turbine blades made of aluminium. It has a motor in the centre, which is its power-generation equipment. At the bottom they have attached a stand. “Its unique selling point is its light weight and portability,” said Sarmad.

According to Prof Qadir, the project was initially designed for Nehr-e-Khayyam in the city’s Boat Basin area. Shahid Abdullah, leading architect of the People and Nature Initiative who was heading the storm water drain’s restoration, was also on board for the project.

“If only the equipment designed by these students is installed in Nehr-e-Khayyam, it could generate power for two to three restaurants at Boat Basin,” said the supervisor, adding that it could end up saving KE’s power with “very nominal expenditure”.

Hub Canal test

The students have successfully tested Burraq in the Hub Canal, where the water flow was 1.6 cubic metre per second, which is roughly 45 cusecs. “It generated 300 watts, and at 400 watts our inverter became dysfunctional,” said Sarmad, adding that they had installed a weak inverter because they were not expecting this much power generation at the Hub Canal.

Up-country use

In Karachi’s Gujjar Nullah or Aurangabad Nullah, he said, the water flow is much heavier, so the power production will be greater. “We’ll have to get the equipment coated [with net] because of garbage in the city’s drains. However, if the nullahs are cleaned, they’d be ideal for power generation.”

Burraq can also be used for hotels and houses on riverbanks in up-country areas. “Heaters are required during winters, and power supply isn’t constant even in the northern areas,” said Ali, adding that one or two units of their project can produce power for one big hotel.

Powering slums

The power load of Karachi’s slum areas, according to Ahmed, is very low. Since KE mostly complains of power theft and line losses in such settlements, the UIT engineers claim that they can generate power at an extremely cheap cost especially for the city’s settlements near the banks of nullahs or rivers.

If a settlement is situated further from a nullah or a river, Burraq can transmit electricity through a distribution network with a minimum loss of power. “In case of more water flow, power can be stored in batteries and used when the flow is less,” explained Ahmed.

Burraq’s costing

The ambitious engineers have also done Burraq’s costing. Four fans, six LED lamps, a TV, a refrigerator, a washing machine and electronic gadgets generally require a total of 798 watts in an average household. “Burraq can generate up to 1,000 watts, which means up to 200 watts can be saved,” said Ahmed.

He said that if a household that receives an average electricity bill of Rs4,500 a month installs Burraq at a cost of Rs100,000, their cost will be recovered in 20 months, and then they can enjoy free power for the next two and a half years.

Prof Qadir explained that they have done the costing with an estimated equipment life of five years, but he believes the actual life may be much more than this. “The magnets used in Burraq have a life of 1,200 years,” said Ahmed, adding that the motor is water proof, and that even if water were to enter it, it will signal the issue, following which it can be cleaned.

How does it work?

“It’s all about the flow and depth of the river,” said Prof Qadir. “With water’s kinetic energy, Burraq’s wings will rotate,” said Ahmed, adding that it has an aerodynamic design: one of the wings is curvy and the other is steep.

“When fluid will cross it, it will release maximum energy and transfer it equally,” he said, adding that the voltage will be generated and transferred to the rectifier. Prof Qadir said the design is primitive, and further controls can be installed.