Funded by:  
Supported by:  
Web design by Diane Hake of Weir American Hydro  

Project Objective:

The primary objective of this project is to stimulate academic interest in the conventional hydropower field by supplying research support for at least eight individual Master of Science (MS) or Doctoral (PhD) level research projects, each consisting of a graduate student supervised by a faculty member.


Penn State’s Graduate Engineering Program will rapidly and effectively implement DOE’s University Hydropower Research Program through an innovative recruitment method that attracts the country’s highest quality graduate students into this area of research. We have teamed with nearby American Hydro Corporation (AHC) to provide exciting and relevant research topics for graduate student research. We have also established an Advisory/Review Panel to monitor the progress of the research to ensure successful application of the results.

Working Partners:

John M. Cimbala, Professor, 814-863-2739,
Cost-Sharing Partners: Weir American Hydro Corporation
Contacts: William H. Colwill, 717-755-5300,

  • Department of Energy
  • John Cimbala
  • Steven Chu
  • David Beevers
  • David Boger
  • Xibei Ding
  • Hosein Foroutan
  • Dan Leonard
  • Bryan Lewis
  • Keith Martin
  • Girish Rajan
  • Scott Richards
  • Ben Rittenhouse
  • Alex Wouden
  • Alex Wouden:

    [Faculty advisor John Cimbala] – Alex is a PhD student who recently graduated with an MS degree in Mechanical Engineering at Utah State University. He joined the project in June 2010 and is working with John Cimbala to study the unsteady interaction between the hydroturbine the wicket gates and runner blades. Alex has acquainted himself with the development of the project. He has visited American Hydro (York, PA) as well as the Sir Adam Beck generating station (Ontario) to understand the current advancements and procedures applied in the hydropower industry. The visits also provided a glimpse of the CFD-design, production, installation, and operation of various hydro turbines. Also, Alex has familiarized himself with the current database of literature and is conducting a search for literature especially applicable to his project. Alex has also spent time to learn some available grid-generation and CFD tools. He has reviewed the tutorials for Pointwise and OpenFOAM and is currently evaluating their strengths against Gambit and FLUENT (now ANSYS). He is currently analyzing a hydroturbine of estimated blade geometry to explore the capacity of OpenFOAM.

    Scott Richards:

    [Faculty advisor Horacio Perez-Blanco] – As of June 1, Scott started working full time on hydro/wind/solar aggregates research. Scott’s first step was to conduct a literature review for the usage of pumped storage as a means to decrease the intermittency of non-dispatchable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Other publications (e.g., Denholm, et al., 2010) have addressed pairing pumped storage with intermittent renewables and will serve as a good starting point for this project. Scott’s advisor, Horacio Perez-Blanco, has constructed a generic solar model in VisSim that will be adapted to help predict the output of a given solar farm. He also attended a seminar that addressed the financial and technical aspects of utility operations. After talking with various Penn State faculty, it was determined that forecasting solar and wind farm output was too large for the scope of this project. Thus the modeling will be set up so that either historical data or third party wind/solar forecasts can be used as the input for the solar and wind portions of the model. The wind & solar models will ultimately be used to assess the reliability of a hydro/wind/solar aggregate and to develop planning tools for pumped hydro storage. Brian Leyde, who is a Senior at Penn State, has been assisting the project by writing MATLAB scripts that analyze wind and solar data and identify days that led to extreme variations in power output. In early June, Scott went with the Penn State DOE Hydropower group to tour the American Hydro plant and learned about the internal parts (runners, wicket gates, etc.) of traditional hydropower. In mid June, Scott and Brian toured the Sir Adam Beck generation stations which are located on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. These two tours were complementary in that the Sir Adam Beck tour demonstrated how the parts seen at American Hydro were used to generate power.

    Keith Martin:

    (summer 2010) [Faculty advisor John Cimbala] – Keith is an undergraduate mechanical engineering student at PSU. He joined this project in May 2010. As a first step, he conducted a literature survey to familiarize himself with common terminology and methods associated with turbomachinery, especially those related to pumped storage and CFD. Next, ANSYS Workbench was used as a tool to apply and practice mesh generation techniques. To increase his competence with ANSYS software, he reviewed and suggested modifications to improve in-house tutorials. In some cases, initial geometries for CFD analysis were created in SolidWorks due to its widespread use at PSU and elsewhere. The compatibility of SolidWorks and ANSYS Mesher software was investigated by modeling a Francis turbine and draft tube from the Keokuk power station as shown in the figure below. The Keokuk hydro plant is located on the Mississippi River near Keokuk, Iowa and is operated by AmerenUE. Additionally, progress has been made in learning Pointwise and OpenFOAM software. A tutorial has been written that guides users through creating a geometry in CAD software, importing the geometry into Pointwise to create a mesh, then running the case in either FLUENT or OpenFOAM. The importance of research and CFD in building and operating physical turbines was underscored by two trips. On June 3, he attended an orientation meeting at American Hydro in York, PA and received a tour of the manufacturing facilities. On June 18, he accompanied Dr. Perez-Blanco and three other students on a visit to Sir Adam Beck hydro and pumped-storage plants near Niagara Falls, Canada. Touring functioning hydro plants resulted in an increased understanding of how electricity is produced, regulated, and distributed to a power grid that is increasingly affected by dynamic energy sources such as wind farms.

    Bryan Lewis:

    [Faculty advisor John Cimbala] – Bryan is a 2010 graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and he moved to State College in late May. He was selected as a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellow by the DoD High Performance Computing (HPC) Modernization Program. As such, he brings to the research project the capability to perform extremely large computational fluid simulations using DoD HPC resources. Also, for the last year, Byran has been using OpenFOAM in various research projects at Brigham Young University-Idaho. This coming fall he will begin classes at PSU as a PhD student. In the meantime, he has been hired for the summer to set up OpenFOAM on PSU's computing clusters and begin his portion of the research: Suppress Unsteadiness and Improve Runner Efficiencies at Off-Design Conditions. In the last month and a half Bryan has been able compile the basic OpenFOAM libraries as well as specialized libraries for turbomachinery performance analysis on the PSU computing clusters and our research group lab computer. The installation has been tested on a basic level, and appears to be operating correctly. He has also performed a cursory literature review of CFD analysis techniques for hydro turbines, causes of unsteadiness in turbine runners, and analysis of rotor-stator interactions. The next phase of the project will be to create a grid of a single guide vain and runner blade passage. Several published studies have been conducted on benchmark turbines using frozen rotor and rotating frame-of-reference configurations. The goal of this phase of the project will be to recreate the published results, and thereby validate the chosen CFD tools.

    May 2009

    Department of Energy requests proposals for the "University Hydropower Research Program" -
    "DOE is soliciting proposals to establish and manage a competitive fellowship program to support graduate students undertaking a dissertation on topics connected with conventional hydropower or pumped storage hydropower (PSH). The successful applicant to this Topic Area will propose a program designed to effectively stimulate new interest among academic institutions and their students and research faculty in conventional hydropower issues, generate new knowledge and technology from the research conducted, and produce a new generation of engineers and scientists to work in this field for decades to come.


    Dr. John Cimbala, Principle Investigator and Project Coordinator for The Pennsylvania State University with support from American Hydro Corporation submits proposal to the DOE. The primary objective of this project is to stimulate academic interest in the conventional hydropower field by supplying research support for at least eight individual Master of Science (MS) or Doctoral (PhD) level research projects, each consisting of a graduate student supervised by a faculty member.


    Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of the U.S .Department of Energy announces award of funding: "Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA) will support at least eight individual Master of Science (MS) or Doctoral (PhD) level research projects to identify and investigate topics in the hydropower industry for which academic research is of benefit to the industry, and thus generate new knowledge and technologies that will enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. hydropower industry in the global market.

    David Boger

    [Faculty advisor Eric Paterson] – David has continued working with OpenFOAM along a path towards using it for design optimization in hydropower applications. Toward that end, he has recently completed scripting the generation of a grid for the Keokuk draft tube using only the blue print parameters for the section dimensions and centerline geometry as input. The process relies on Jonathan Shewhcuk’s Triangle software to obtain a conforming constrained Delaunay triangulation of the surfaces and the AFLR3 code from Mississippi State University to build the mixed polyhedral unstructured volume mesh. The process is relatively quick (less than 45 seconds to achieve a model with 600,000 elements) and fully automated, so it is suitable for design optimization of the draft tube. David has also begun investigating several grid deformation techniques including the use of radial basis functions as an alternative to fully reconstructing the grid at each design iteration. David and Eric attended the 5th OpenFOAM workshop in Gothenburg, Sweden in June, where David presented a dynamic overset grid implementation in OpenFOAM. The workshop had a significant hydropower presence and included talks on design optimization of a draft tube using a genetic algorithm, a comparison of numerical and experimental results of the flow in a Porjus U9 Kaplan turbine model (a coupled, unsteady simulation including the spiral case, turbine and draft tube), several pump-turbine analyses, and other presentations by Hydro Quebec, Andritz Hydro, and Chalmers University of Technology on a variety of hydropower topics related to OpenFOAM. David has also continued to expand his abilities as an OpenFOAM developer, having for example implemented an alternative low-Reynolds number two-equation turbulence model, which he contributed to the OpenFOAM-extend project repository.

    Xibei Ding

    [Faculty advisor Alok Sinha] – During the past three months, we have been able to obtain several hydropower plants’ parameters to run and compare our linear and nonlinear models with small deviations. An example is shown in the figure below. From the models’ transient responses with respect to increasing gate opening, we can clearly identify the non-minimum phase behavior of the system and effects from elastic penstock and surge tank as well. After gaining confidence in our hydro-turbine dynamic models, we expanded the model to include simple dynamic models of wicket gate and generator. We have also started to study the controller performance for the hydropower plant. We have reviewed the existing literature dealing with control goals and algorithms. In view of limitations of these controllers, we have begun to design a nonlinear control method: Sliding Mode Control for the hydropower plant..

    Dan Leonard

    [Faculty advisor Jay Lindau] – Ultimately, this project proposes to simulate multiphase flow in hydroturbine runners and draft tubes to assess problems in efficiency and damage due to cavitation. To begin, it was decided that simple simulations would be run to develop knowledge of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and the solver being used (OpenFOAM). First, a practice simulation was done of unsteady cavitation due to flow over a forward facing step. Next, the geometries for a hydroturbine runner and draft tube were obtained from American Hydro Corporation. As a first attempt to study flow through the draft tube, a steady state simulation for swirling inlet flow was studied with a fully structured grid and the k-e turbulence model (see figure below). The inlet profile for the draft tube was provided by American Hydro. The next steps are to begin to study the runner with cyclic boundary conditions for a single blade passage. After running simple cases of the turbine and the draft tube, more complexity and more detailed models will be included, such as cavitation models, more complex turbulence models, and full simulations of rotating and stationary components.