Solar-Powered Water Wheel Can Clean 50,000 Pounds of Baltimore’s Trash Per Day

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Inner Harbor Water Wheel, Baltimore
Baltimore City has created the solar powered water wheel, a 100,000-pound trash-collecting device that harnesses solar power and the current. Debris is funneled into the device and then onto a conveyor belt that deposits it into a dumpster, which is emptied once full. (Inhabitat Blog / Flickr CC 2.0)

This post first appeared on EcoWatch.

A large wheel has been strolling the Baltimore Inner Harbor this summer, doing its best to clean the trash that has littered a city landmark and tourist attraction.

It’s called the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, and though it moves slowly, it has the capability to collect 50,000 pounds of trash. The timing for John Kellett’s solar-powered creation is crucial — hands and crab nets simply can’t keep up with the growing amount of wrappers, cigarette butts, bottles and other debris carried from storm drains into the harbor.

“It looks sort of like a cross between a spaceship and a covered wagon and an old mill,” Kellett told NPR. “It’s pretty unique in its look, but it’s also doing a really good job getting this trash out of the water.”

Graphic courtesy of Healthy Harbor

The wheel has become an integral part of the Healthy Harbor Waterfront Partnership Initiative. It receives power from the Jones Falls river’s current near the harbor, which turns the wheel and lifts trash from the water into a dumpster barge. Solar panels keep it running when the water current isn’t enough.

The wheel is now docked in the harbor. Each time it runs, it removes an impressive amount of debris. So far, it has never collected less than eight cubic yards of trash.

Healthy Harbor hopes to make the body of water swimmable in less than six years, and the Water Wheel could be a big part of that.

“The water wheel has been a time-saver for us,” said Bill Flohr, who runs Baltimore Harbor’s East Marina. “It seems to be collecting probably 95 percent of what we normally had to pick up by hand.”

Below, see the wheel in action:

Brandon Baker
Brandon Baker is the editor of EcoWatch’s EcoBusiness vertical. A Cleveland area native, he has been a journalist for nearly eight years.
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