A St. John's-based startup company has created a microturbine capable of charging devices using the flow of wind or water, and it's attracting the attention of nature-loving technophiles around the world.

More than 500 people from 18 countries have signed up to be the first to get their hands on a Waterlily — a portable generator that can charge up to two devices at a time while dangling from a branch or sitting in a river.

"The sky's the limit for setting this thing up. You can hang it from a tree, you can strap it to a backpack," said Adam Press, a mechanical engineer and co-creator of the Waterlily. 

Waterlily

Unlike solar panels, the Waterlily can be used at night to power devices while you sleep, as long as there is a minimum wind speed of 10.8 km/h or a minimum water flow of one km/h. (Submitted by Adam Press)

"As long as you can get it faced into a flow of water, or a flow of wind, it should start charging your devices." 

The Waterlily — which is 7.5 centimetres thick, 18 centimetres in diameter and weighs less than a kilogram — can't power your hairdryer or coffee maker, but it can be used to charge anything that connects with a USB cord. 

"An iPad, iPhone, GoPro camera, GPS, I have a head lamp that charges via USB, flashlights — you name it; if it charges with that USB cord you'll be in business with Waterlily," said Press.

Seaformatics Team

Seaformatics co-founders, from left: Adam Press, Andrew Cook, Robert Boyd and Geoff Holden. (Submitted by Adam Press)

The mini-generator is a spinoff of technology called Sealily, developed by the Seaformatics project at Memorial University of Newfoundland to help scientists power instruments to collect ocean data.  

That project turned into a company for Press and three members of MUN's Seaformatics engineering team — project manager Andrew Cook, Geoff Holden and Robert Boyd. 

A mutual love of the outdoors prompted them to come up with a scaled-down version of Sealily, which they started working on early this year.

Going with the low flow 

"Unlike a lot of turbines on the market, [Waterlily] is made to work in very low flow, like when there's not a whole lot of energy to get, so that's kind of our niche. We've made the design very efficient," said Press.

According to the group's website, the charge time for a smartphone in 25 km/h wind is about eight hours. That drops to 2.5 hours if the wind speed is 36 km/h. 

Press said finding a river with a flow equivalent to the average speed a person walks will do the job in about 2.5 hours.

"You don't need a crazy whitewater river to charge your phone. If you get a river that's going at five kilometres per hour, that's going to be terrific for charging."

The Waterlily hasn't gone into production yet, but the team is speaking with Canadian manufacturers and hopes to have pre-orders filled by the fall.

They will also be adding options such as a hand-crank accessory for emergency use, and are working on a bike-mount accessory and tow-cable kit for canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.

Waterlily

A 3D printed prototype of the Waterlily. (Submitted by Adam Press)

Press said the Waterlily appeals to a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts, with interest from campers, hikers, touring cyclists, remote area researchers, outdoor film crews, photographers, hunters, fishermen, boaters and even doomsday preppers.

Selling around the world

Since April 1 they've had pre-orders at a discounted cost of $159 Cdn from 18 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden, Netherlands, the U.K., Japan, the U.S., Canada, Russia, and Germany. 

"People like it. People love the outdoors, people love technology, so they like to bring their devices," said Press.

"This will allow you to just go a little bit further, will give you peace of mind when you're out in the bush and your trip is longer than you expect. You'll have a source of power to keep you going."

Waterlily

The Waterlily has an unlimited immersion time and can be used at a maximum depth of nearly 11 thousand metres. (Waterlilyturbine.com)

With files from the St. John's Morning Show