Vitale’s latest product, the Scissors Paddlewheel

Robert Vitale Reinvents the Paddlewheel

July 21, 2010
by Tamra Fakhoorian

Reinventing the wheel is usually frowned upon, but in the case of the Waterwheel Factory’s development of high-tech paddlewheels for open pond raceways, it is paying off nicely in terms of better efficiencies for the emerging algae industry.

“Current paddlewheel designs waste far too much energy and are inefficient at mixing algae,” states Robert Vitale, president and founder of the Waterwheel Factory in Franklin, NC. “There was a lot of room for improvement in paddlewheel construction and design. With our expertise in moving water, we found the emerging algae industry to be a natural fit.”

Vitale’s company has been primarily known for its massive waterwheels that grace grist mills in the US and abroad. Waterwheel Factory is the world’s largest manufacturer of metal water wheels.

In 2008, General Atomics asked Vitale to build a raceway paddlewheel for a research project. Since then, Vitale has built paddlewheels for a number of algae research groups including Sapphire, Midwest Research Institute, Texas A&M Agrilife Research Center, and Touchstone Research Labs.

Vitale’s latest product, aptly named the Scissors Paddlewheel, currently under testing, boasts a novel design that may cut energy consumption by up to 20% over contemporary models and allows thorough mixing of bottom algae into upper water layers in a “forward, up, then down” configuration.

“We made great improvements in materials, overall blade design, and motor/gearbox arrangements. With the help from Teledyne Industries, using their Doppler current velocity instrument, we have been able to focus closely on the spot where the paddle meets the water and discovered some surprising opportunities for improvements.”

Vitale will speak at the National Algae Association Houston conference September 24-25, where he will showcase his Scissors Paddlewheel.

Sometimes it pays to reinvent the wheel.

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