A solar-powered water wheel is helping to purge the waters of Baltimore's Inner Harbour of trash and debris.

The Inner Harbour Water Wheel is using renewable energy to remove copious amounts of garbage from Baltimore’s maritime environment.

The device is the brainchild of John Kellett, who takes his inspiration from Baltimore’s golden age of industry in the late 19th century, when water-powered mills were used to process the myriad commodities that were shipped to the city’s ports.

While the best days of both Baltimore and the water wheel as major players in industry are in the past, Kellett has spent much of the past decade applying this antique technology to the development of water-powered trash infiltrators, which are capable of cleaning confined waterways with a minimum of energy and effort.

The remarkable-looking structure he’s devised, which resembles a bizarre cross between water wheel, pavilion-sheltered escalator and nautilus shell, is situated at the outlet of one of the major rivers flowing into Inner Harbour, facing the direction of the current.

A pair of trash containment booms first guide any rubbish or debris to the fore of the water wheel, where a raking system moves it to the front of the structure’s conveyor belt.

water wheel-chart

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The conveyor belt then extracts the floating garbage from the water before depositing it into a dumpster barge for subsequent collection and disposal.

The device is a marvel of sustainable operation, making use of both the currents of the river and solar energy to power the conveyor belt.

The solar panel array installed on the roof of the water wheel is capable of generating 30 kilowatt-hours of electricity on a sunny day, which is enough to power a standard home during the same time frame. This ample amount of energy ensures the operation of the device even when the current is weak.

water wheel-stats

The wheel is capable of purging 23 metric tons of garbage from the waters of Inner Harbour each day, though it has yet to reach this level since it was first installed in May this year.

During the period from May 16 to June 16, the wheel extracted 46 tons of garbage from the harbour in total, making a major contribution to efforts to prevent plastic trash and debris from flowing into the Atlantic Ocean via the Chesapeake Bay.

 City officials are extremely pleased with the results thus far, noting that it collects around 95 per cent of garbage which would normally have to be picked up manually. They believe the device could help make Inner Harbour a swimmable body of water in under six years’ time.

Experts are also touting the potential for the water wheel to be used in other cities – particularly those endowed with narrow tributaries whose waters can be readily controlled.