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Water Turbine, Water Wheel

Energy from water

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

For many years, energy of moving water has been used to grind grains and run machinery such as wood working, knitting and cutting machinery. Many of these places are now preserved as museums. With modern technology, the energy of water is not directly used to do do the job. Instead, water energy is used to produce electricity and the electricity is used to run different machinery. 

Since the flow of water is seasonal, dams are made to control the water flow and produce electricity all year long. With dams, storing water is storing energy.

In this project you will make a working model of a water turbine and calculate the amount of electrical energy that can be produced by your water turbine. You can make a water turbine using wood. So wood working skills, some tools and adult supervision and help is required for this project. 

Information Gathering:
Gather information about your project. If you are a basic or advanced member of, your project advisor may prepare the initial information that you need and enter them in this section. In any case it is necessary for you to read additional books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn more about the subject of your research. Keep track of where you got your information from.


These are the components or parts for each of most water mills.

Water Wheel

The Water Wheel draws the power for the mill from a current of water.

The Water Wheel transmits the energy trough a shaft to other parts of a mill to do a work or run an electric generator.

Transmission of energy can be done using gears, pulleys and belts.

Question/ Purpose:
What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to build a small wooden water wheel and connect it to a bicycle generator in order to produce electricity.

Identify Variables:
When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Variables that may affect the production of electricity are design variables such as size of the water wheel and the shape of buckets made on the wheel. Design variables affect the speed and torque of the wheel. On the other hand higher torque and speed of the water wheel, when transferred to a generator, produces a higher amount of electricity.

Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about the answer to your question or the result of your experiment. 

My hypothesis is that the force of a wooden water wheel with 2 feet diameter can be transmitted to a small generator (directly or using belts and pulleys) to produce electricity. 

Experiment Design:
Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a "control." A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral "reference point" for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a "controlled experiment."

So you want to make a water wheel and use it's energy to run an electric generator. There are many ways that you can design your project. For example you may construct a wooden water wheel and connect it to a bicycle generator to produce electricity. Or you may convert an existing bicycle wheel to a water wheel by connecting aluminum or plastic cups to that. 

Start by drawing your design and doing the calculations. Imagine that you want to give your drawings to a builder and he is supposed to complete the project without your supervision or advise. Preparing the drawings and doing the calculations is what engineers do. So this is your chance to test your engineering skills. 

How big should your water wheel be? It depends on the generator that you use. The generator needs certain torque (rotational force) and certain rotational speed in order to produce electricity. Your water wheel should be able to produce enough force or you will get no electricity. Test your generator to see how much force do you need to run it efficiently and produce electricity. Use a volt meter to see what is the voltage produced by your generator at different speeds. You may use pulleys or gears to increase the rotational speed (Number of turns per minute).

How should I design the water wheel? Here is a sample:

The idea is that one side of the wheel should hold some water and become heavy, causing the wheel to spin. As you know more water results more weight and more torque (rotational force) on the wheel. 

I decided to make my drawings and see how much water do the cups hold in different designs. 

In first design I will use two wooden circles with the diameter of two feet and a wooden cylinder with the diameter of 16 inches and height of 6 inches.

I will mount the circles on the bases of cylinder to make spool. I will then use 12 pieces of 6 x 10 wood paddles to make the cups or buckets. Since water level is horizontal, I can see how much water does the wheel hold in one side in my drawings.

I noticed that the bottom of buckets is too narrow and it does not hold much water. So I cam up with a second design to use an angle as buckets. So I replaced each 6 x 10 wood paddle with two pieces connected to each other to form an L shape. 

I decided to use a 6 x 2 piece of wood that forms the bottom of each bucket and a 6 x 8 that forms the side of each bucket. The drawing showed that this design will hold more water than the previous one.

Now that enlarging the bottom of buckets can increase the amount of water stored in buckets, I increased it again. In this drawing I assumed that the bottoms are three inches wide, instead of 2 inches. So pieces of 3" x 6" will be used.

This again showed an increase in the size of buckets and any water hitting the outside of each bucket, simply slides down into the lower bucket.

I also made another drawing as you see in the right, but it does not seem to be as good. In this drawing the bottom of buckets are about 5". That is why they are slanted. One problem that I noticed in this drawing is that water hitting the outside of a bucket, does not easily enter the next  bucket and may get wasted.

This just gave you some idea on how to start your design. It's up to you how you want to continue that.

Materials and Equipment:
List of material depends on your final design. In general you will need some wood, some wires, a generator, a light bulb and a socket. Additional material such as nails, screws and wood glues depend on your design.

Where to buy?

You may purchase wood from some hardware stores or home improvement stores or hobby stores.

Screw base 6 volts light bulb and socket can also be purchased from hardware stores.

Bicycle generator is available at bicycle stores and sport shops.

These material may also be ordered online to or

Results of Experiment (Observation):
Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental "runs." During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered "raw data" since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.
If you do any calculation for your project, write your calculations in this section.

Summery of Results:
Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.

Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.
Related Questions & Answers:
What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:
If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.

front view Display water mill does not produce electricity, however the design of water wheel may be helpful for your project. Click here to see how it is made. finished wheel

Water mills are usually made in large sizes, click here to see a sample.

Many water mills are now restored and converted to museums. 

Some historical information about developing wheels are available here.

See actual design and drawing of a water mill.

Display water mill does not produce electricity, however the design of water wheel may be helpful for your project.