Patent application title: HYDROELECTRIC DEVICES PRINCIPALLY FOR USE IN RECIRCULATING FLUID SYSTEMS OF VESSELS SUCH AS SWIMMING POOLS AND SPAS
Dindo Uy (North Hollywood, CA, US)
Eusebio Domingo Bareng (Oxnard, CA, US)
Scott Yankie (Simi Valley, CA, US)
IPC8 Class: AE04H414FI
Class name: Baths, closets, sinks, and spittoons pool type combined or convertable
Publication date: 2012-05-10
Patent application number: 20120110727
Generators of hydroelectric energy are detailed. The generators are
designed principally for use in connection with swimming pools and spas
and may use the generated electricity to operate a valve, power a gas
heater, or illuminate pool lights, in addition to any other appropriate
uses for lower voltage electrical energy.
1. A method of supplying electricity to a light system integral with a
pool or spa fitting, comprising: (a) providing a generator system
integral with a pool or spa fitting; (b) causing water to circulate
through the generator system via water from a pool or spa water return
system, such that the water interacts with the generator system in order
to generate electricity; and (c) supplying at least some of the generated
electricity to the light system integral with the pool or spa fitting in
order to illuminate the light system.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein the light system comprises one or more LED lights.
3. The method of claim 1, wherein the light system is positioned in an extended portion of the fitting.
4. The method of claim 1, wherein the fitting, the generator, and the light system are provided as a single integrated unit.
5. A modified fitting for a pool or spa system, comprising: (a) a fitting face, (b) an element extending from the fitting face comprising a generator positioned therein; and (c) an electric component associated with the modified fitting.
6. The fitting of claim 5, wherein the electric component is housed in the modified fitting.
7. The fitting of claim 5, wherein the electric component is positioned in an extended portion of the fitting face.
8. The fitting of claim 5, wherein the electric component comprises one or more LED lights.
9. The fitting of claim 5, further comprising a threaded adapter configured to allow the modified fitting to be positioned within a threaded pool tube.
10. A method of supplying electricity to a gas powered heater, comprising: (a) providing a generator system in-line with fluid tubing associated with the gas powered heater; (b) causing water to circulate into and out of the generator system via the fluid tubing such that the water interacts with the generator in order to generate electricity; and (c) supplying at least some of the generated electricity to the gas powered heater in order to ignite the heater.
11. The method of claim 10, wherein the gas powered heater is a pool heater is associated with a swimming pool, a hot tub or a spa.
12. The method of claim 10, wherein the fluid tubing is directed into the gas powered heater and wherein the generator system is positioned inside the gas powered heater.
13. The method of claim 10, wherein the generator system is positioned inside an element configured to be associated with the fluid tubing.
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
 This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/406,589, filed Oct. 26, 2010, titled "Hydroelectric Devices Principally for use in Recirculating Fluid Systems of Vessels Such as Swimming Pools and Spas," the entire contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 Embodiments of the invention relate generally to equipment and methods of generating electricity as a consequence of fluid flow and more particularly, although not necessarily exclusively, to generating electricity as a result of water flow for purposes including (but not limited to) ceasing operation of automatic swimming pool cleaners (APCs), powering gas heaters, debris traps, flow measurements, or flow displays, and activating light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or other lighting positioned in return lines or other areas of pools or spas, or any other electrical components associated with a pool or spa or other water feature that may be powered by an amount of energy created by converting flowing water into electrical energy.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 Numerous equipment items and apparatus associated with swimming pools and spas require low-amperage electricity for operation. As one of many examples, some pools and spas include decorative and functional lighting powered by electricity. Pool-related (or other) gas heaters likewise may be powered by electricity, as may various valves and other devices. Currently these devices, when present, typically are powered by batteries, electrical mains, standing pilot thermopiles, or solar energy. They hence do not exploit the fact that standard filtration systems of pools and spas recirculate water, with the fluid movement providing the potential of a source of energy for electrical generation.
 U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/244,083 (the "'083 application") (Publication Number 2011/0064626), entitled "Energy Generation Methods and Systems for Swimming Pools and Other Vessels With Recirculating Fluid," describes various turbine-driven energy generation systems. In at least one such system, a housing may define both primary and secondary flow paths for fluid, with the secondary path including an electricity-generating mechanism comprising a turbine and a generator. Generated electricity may, for example, power a salt-water chlorinator (SWC) positioned in the primary fluid flow path. The contents of the '083 application are incorporated herein in their entirety by this reference.
 U.S. patent application Ser. No. 13/049,029 (the "'029 application"), entitled "Idler Mechanisms for Hydraulic Devices," describes systems and methods for idling a hydraulic pool cleaner and inhibiting its movement. One way this can be done is by creating a by-pass port that can pass water therethrough when open (via action of the pool pump). This diverts water from the primary flow path (and consequently reduces fluid flow through the primary flow path) such that the fluid drawn through the pool cleaner primary flow path is at a level below an operational level, preventing movement of the pool cleaner (i.e., allowing it to idle). When the by-pass port is closed, the action of the pool pump causes the pool cleaner to operate and move along the pool floor in a normal fashion. The contents of the '029 application are incorporated herein in their entirety by this reference.
 U.S. Pat. No. 7,036,951, entitled "Swimming Pool Steps with Light," describes a system that uses a generator to provide electric current to power low voltage lights that are positioned on stairs/risers of an above-ground pool. It is intended to provide assistance by illuminating the area around the steps or to alert a user that someone has entered the pool. In this system, the generator is mounted on an output conduit.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 Embodiments of the present invention provide devices for generating electricity as a consequence of fluid flow. In some embodiments, the generated electricity may be used to operate a valve. This fluid flow may then be used to generate electricity for other pool equipment or small items. In other embodiments, in addition to or alternatively from the valve, the generated electricity may be used to power any number of pool or spa-related items that require electricity in order to operate, such as a gas heater ignition, pool lights, or any other equipment or items.
 At least one version of the invention includes a housing defining primary and secondary flow paths, such that a secondary flow path has a turbine generator positioned therein. Fluid flowing through the secondary flow path operates the turbine generator so as to generate electricity. The electricity, in turn, my be used to operate a latch actuator that periodically opens a door or other valve. Additionally or alternatively, the generator may be positioned along a water return or flow line, such that it can generate electricity for other pool or spa components. For example, the generator may be positioned on, near, within or otherwise in close proximity to a fluid tubing or a water line leading to a gas powered heater, such that the system can generate electricity to activate the heater unit. As another example, the generator may be positioned on, within or otherwise in close proximity to a water return fitting or other pool fitting leading to the pool or spa, such that it can generate electricity for an LED light or other pool or spa components, based on water flow therethrough. Other purposes will be known to persons skilled in the art.
 It thus is an optional, non-exclusive object of the present invention to provide devices for generating electricity as a result of fluid flow.
 It is another optional, non-exclusive object of the present invention to provide such devices useful to power items associated with swimming pools and spas.
 It is also an optional, non-exclusive object of the present invention to provide such devices in which the generated electricity is used to open a door to allow entry of fluid into a housing.
 It is a further optional, non-exclusive object of the present invention to provide such devices designed to provide power for igniting gas powered heaters.
 It is a further optional, non-exclusive object of the present invention to provide such devices designed to provide power for lighting such as LED lighting for lighting the pool or spa water or for lighting surrounding landscaping.
 Other objects, features, and advantages will be apparent to those skilled in appropriate fields with reference to the remaining text and drawings of this application.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 FIGS. 1 and 2 show views of an exemplary device used to operate a valve on a pool cleaner.
 FIG. 3 is a diagram illustrating water flow through the unit of FIGS. 1 and 2 under a normal flow.
 FIG. 4 is a diagram illustrating water flow under by-pass flow through the unit of FIGS. 1 and 2 for causing a pool cleaner to cease motion.
 FIGS. 5A and 5B show a cut away and perspective view of a generator that may be used in various embodiments.
 FIGS. 6A and 6B show an embodiment of a system that may be integrated into an existing pool tubing.
 FIGS. 7 and 8 show examples of a system that can generate electricity for a gas heater.
 FIG. 9 shows a schematic drawing of a prior art millivolt system used to generate electricity for a gas heater.
 FIG. 10 shows a schematic drawing of the new system described herein used to generate electricity for a gas heater.
 FIG. 11 shows a series of return fittings that may be used in connection with a pool or spa system.
 FIG. 12 shows an example of a modified fitting made according to one embodiment of this invention.
 FIG. 13 shows the modified fitting of FIG. 12 being positioned in a pipe.
 FIG. 14 shows the modified fitting of FIG. 12 with a threaded adapted being positioned in a threaded pipe.
 FIGS. 15A and 15B show a front and back perspective view of a modified pool fitting housing an LED light.
 Certain features of the invention provide a system and method for diverting water flow in order to generate electricity for equipment items and apparatus associated with swimming pools, hot tubs, and/or spas that require low-amperage electricity for operation. Other features relate to a system and method for securing a generator at or near a position at which low-amperage electricity will be used in the swimming pool or spa. As one of many examples, some swimming pools and spas include decorative and functional lighting powered by electricity (such as lighting for water features or landscaping), gas-powered heaters that are powered on by electrical ignition or other electrical power, debris collectors, skimmers, water misters, water features or fountains, clocks, timers, water flow meters, small pool toys, pool cleaners or components within such cleaners, electronic water level systems, and any other number of items that use low amounts of electrical power that can be generated by the methods described herein. For example, a turbine or other water powered generator may be positioned at or near a gas powered heater in order to provide ignition energy for the heater. As another example, the generator may be positioned at or near a pool fitting that contains or houses a light or other electric component in order to provide energy for the light or other electric component.
 A first embodiment relates to a system to activate a valve in a pool cleaner. FIGS. 1 and 2 illustrate an exemplary device 10, showing a bypass valve for diverting fluid flow. As depicted in the figures, device 10 is configured for attachment in-line to hoses, pipes, pool or spa fittings, or other conduits for fluid. Device 10 thus includes inlet 14 and outlet 18, with inlet 14 typically (although not necessarily) being connected via hose to an APC and outlet 18 typically (although again not necessarily) being connected via hose to an inlet of a pump. Device 10 may be external to both an APC and a hose, facilitating its use for retrofitting existing systems. Alternatively, however, device 10 may be incorporated into either or both of the APC or the hose. Yet alternatively, device 10 may be incorporated into or connected to any of a weir, skimmer, suction or pressure line, or otherwise as appropriate or desired.
 Also included as part of device 10 is housing 22. The housing 22 may be made of any suitable material and comprise any number of components; preferably, however, housing 22 is molded of plastic material into a single unit. Connected to housing 22 may be a by pass valve, opening, or door 26. When door 26 is closed (as shown in FIGS. 1-3), fluid enters and exits device 10 only through inlet 14 and outlet 18. When door 26 is closed, device 10 is essentially merely a continuation of the hose or cleaner, and water flowing from inlet 14 to outlet 18 may pass through mechanism 10 unabated. By contrast, when door 26 is open (as shown in FIG. 4), fluid may enter device 10 also through the door 26 rather than (or in addition to) inlet and outlets of the device 10. Door 26 thus functions as a by-pass port when open. When door 26 is opened, the pump will draw most (if not all) of its water directly from the pool, bypassing the body of the APC. This is illustrated by FIGS. 3 and 4 and outlined more below.
 FIG. 3 illustrates exemplary flow through device 10 when door 26 is closed. With door 26 closed, fluid (e.g. water) under influence of a pump enters device 10 solely through inlet 14. The majority of the entering fluid flows through first pathway 46 directly to outlet 18. First pathway 46 preferably is tubular and not substantially more restrictive to flow than are the hoses to which device 10 is attached. Accordingly, first pathway 46 forms a generally unobstructed routing from inlet 14 to outlet 18 and thus comprises part of the primary flow path PFP through device 10.
 Secondary flow path SFP also exists within device 10. As currently configured, device 10 accepts a fraction of the fluid flowing through inlet 14 into secondary flow path SFP via filter 50 and secondary inlet 54. This fraction of diverted fluid then encounters a turbine generator 30 (which is described in more detail below). As shown in FIGS. 2-4, generator 30 may be positioned within a device 10, typically at a point between inlet 14 and outlet 18. In this embodiment, a fraction of diverted fluid that flows along SFP encounters the generator 30, causing generator 30 to produce electricity. Electricity generated by generator 30 may operate (electric) actuator 38 so as to rotate valve latch 34. Depending on its rotational position, latch 34 either allows door 26 to pivot (and thus open) under influence of a pump, as shown in FIG. 4, or prevents the door 26 from pivoting (thus remaining closed) as shown in FIGS. 1-3, with spring 42 serving to bias latch 34 so that door 26 normally is closed. Persons skilled in the art will, of course, recognize that other types of actuators and latches may be used instead; indeed, any electrically-operated device that can cause a valve to open and close on a defined or random schedule may be appropriate in some versions of device 10.
 The fluid thereafter passes through secondary outlet 58 for return to the primary flow path PFP for transit to outlet 18. The region in which the diverted fluid travels between secondary inlet 54 and secondary outlet 58 forms second pathway 62. At least because generator 30 is present therein (if not also because of its size and shape), second pathway 62 is more restrictive of fluid flow than is first pathway 46.
 By contrast, when door 26 is open, as shown in FIG. 4, fluid may enter device 10 via bypass inlet 66. Such fluid may then travel generally unobstructed through secondary outlet 58 to outlet 18, thus in a bypass flow path BFP. Because the bypass flow path BFP is generally unobstructed and of shorter distance than is primary flow path PFP, the majority of fluid entering device 10 will do so via bypass inlet 66, thus reducing the draw of fluid through inlet 14. This reduced draw in turn reduces fluid drawn into a connected APC, preferably to below a level at which it is operational. This keeps the APC in an idle mode, while still allowing fluid flow through the unit. In this instance, fluid flow through the body will be insufficient to create any substantial movement of the cleaner. In other words, when the valve is placed between an APC and the inlet of a pump, it may be used to divert water directly to the pump, rather than through the APC. Stated differently, allowing a generally unobstructed flow path from the pool or spa to a pump will reduce the suction force available to draw pool water through the APC, effectively ceasing its operation.
 A further embodiment relates to using a generator to provide energy to ignite a gas powered heater. First, potential generators will be described for perspective. Turbine generator 30 generally includes a water turbine which will be rotated by the water recirculating system of the pool or spa, such that movement of the water causes generation of an electric current or power. Generator 30 may be any suitable such device, including those turbine-driven generators discussed in the '083 application. One acceptable version of generator 30 is a commercially-available device used to illuminate LEDs in a shower head. Another acceptable version of a generator 30 is a micro-hydro turbine generator, a paddle generator (which uses a paddle instead of a turbine), or any other generator that is of a size to be positioned within a hose, a pool fitting, water conduit, fluid tubing, or other pool equipment and that can use water flow for energy generation.
 For example, one potential generator system that may be used with the embodiments described herein is shown in FIGS. 5A and 5B. This generator 30 may be a modified component from a shower head that generates energy for LED lights in the shower head. In the cut away view shown in FIG. 5A, generator 30 may comprise a rotor 70, a rotor shaft 72, two coil housings 74, a stator 76, and a stator housing 78. The rotor 70 is assembled between two coil housings, and coil wires may be injection molded into the coil housings 74.
 As shown in FIGS. 6A and 6B, generator 30 may positioned within an element 80, which can then be associated with a pool tubing, hose, fluid tubing or conduit, or any such type of pool tubing, PVC tubing, tubing delivering water to a gas heater, tubing delivering water to an intake valve of the pool, a water hose, fluid tubing, or any other type of water flow conduit. In the embodiment shown, element 80 has generator 30 positioned therein. Element 80 may have a clam-shell type configuration, which allows it to be associated in-line with existing pool or fluid tubing in a retro-fit fashion.
 For example, top portion 79 and bottom portion 81 may be provided separate from one another. One or more holes may be drilled in the existing pool or fluid tubing and one or more internal opening portions 83 may be positioned within or aligned in such holes. This allows water flowing through the fluid tubing to also flow through element 80. Portions 79 and 81 are then secured to one another in a water-tight fashion. At this point, water flowing through pool tubing also flows through element 80, activating generator system 30 positioned therein. In other words, a substantial portion of the fluid flowing through element 80 interacts with and generates energy in cooperation with generator 30 that is positioned within element 80, causing generator 30 to produce electricity. In this way, the generator 30 is incorporated in-line with the fluid tubing leading from the pump of the water recirculating system. Electricity generated by generator 30 may be stored and used in any number of ways. In one embodiment, this system may be used as a water meter or a water flow meter, because activation of generator can indicate how fast water is flowing through the pool tubing. The stronger the water is flowing, the faster the generator turns. This would allow a user to infer water flow based on the electrical output of the generator. In another embodiment, described more below, the electricity generated is used to power on a gas powered heater unit.
 In the specific embodiment shown in FIG. 7, turbine generator 30 may be provided in a tubing pod 82 that is designed to house the generator 30. This design makes it possible to add the generator 30 to existing systems by simply removing a piece of pool or spa tubing and replacing it with the tubing pod 82. A turbine power cord 84 may be used to harness and direct the energy created. FIG. 8 shows tubing pod 82 positioned outside a gas powered generator 86 for ease of illustration, but it should be understood that tubing pod 82 or element 80 may be positioned within or in closer proximity to the heater 86. In an ideal implementation that is designed to deliver electricity to a gas powered heater, the system 80 or 82 may be integrated into the gas powered heater unit. FIG. 8 shows an example of a turbine power cord 84 delivering the energy created to a gas powered heater 86 for use in connection with a pool system in order to deliver the power appropriately. This cord may be substantially shorter if the system is fully integrated. The power generated may then be delivered to and used for spark ignition control for a gas heater.
 FIG. 9 illustrates one existing method that may be used to power on a gas powered pool heater. In this example, a thermopile and a standing pilot light are activated at all times. When the thermopile is exposed to heat, it creates sufficient electricity to turn on the gas valve. A benefit of the system is that there is no physical connection to the power supply needed, such as those systems that use a hot surface igniter or a high voltage spark igniter. However, a major drawback of this system is that the pilot light is always on, which can cause environmental and air pollution problems. This pilot light "always on" system has also been banned in come states. Accordingly, the inventor has determined a way to alleviate this standing pilot light option, but to do so while still avoiding a physical connection to an electric power supply.
 As illustrated in the schematic of FIG. 10, by generating all of the electricity needed to ignite the gas powered heater by using a turbine generator using the flow of water, the inventor has provided an alternate solution. The current design uses the flow of water to generate electricity for powering on a gas powered heater, eliminating the need for a high voltage or other electrical connection. Accordingly, one of the benefits of harnessing power from water flowing through a pool system in this manner is that it is inherently safe--there is not any high voltage electricity to contend with. It is also self-powered, such that no external power source or AC power cord is needed. It is easy to install, without an electrician. The element 80 or pod 82 with the generator 30 may be positioned or otherwise associated with pool tubing (e.g., by being positioned in-line with the pool tubing, inserted therein, or simply by replacing a portion of existing fluid tubing). Further more, there are not electricity costs or standby gas costs, as with the existing pilot light option.
 In one embodiment, there is provided a method of supplying electricity to a gas powered heater, comprising providing a generator system 30 in-line with fluid tubing associated with the gas powered heater 86, causing water to circulate into and out of the generator system via the fluid tubing such that the water interacts with the generator in order to generate electricity, and then supplying at least some of the generated electricity to the gas powered heater in order to ignite the heater. The gas powered heater is generally a pool heater is associated with a swimming pool, a hot tub or a spa.
 Additionally or alternatively, the electricity generated may be used for any other appropriate use intended for powering low voltage items in conjunction with a pool or spa or other water feature or system. For example, a further embodiment provides a generator 30 that may be positioned in a return fitting that is used in a pool or a spa. For example, FIG. 11 shows a series of various types of common fittings 88 that are used in the pool and spa industry. These fittings 88 may either be knock-in/slip-in fittings, such that they fit into a pipe inside diameter or around a pipe with either glue or via interference fit. Fittings 88 may instead be threaded face style fittings, which include an eyeball or other type of nozzle that is screwed into the face of the fitting. As shown in FIG. 12, in order to modify such a fitting for use with a generator, an element 90 is secured to a portion of fitting 88. Element 90 may be a tubular element 90, such as a pool or fluid tubing or any other portion of a fluid flow system that directs water. Generator 30 may be positioned or housed within element 90, such that water flow (designated with arrow) is forced through generator 30, and out through the fitting face opening 89. This generates electricity which may be used to power an electric component that can be used in conjunction with a pool or spa system. In a specific embodiment, the electric component may be an LED light 92 or other electric component. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 12, the LED light 92 may be positioned directly onto or in close proximity to fitting 88 and/or element 90 and/or generator 30.
 For example, as shown in FIG. 12, fitting 88 may be a modified fitting designed to provide an extended portion 94 that surrounds some or at least a portion of fitting 88. Portion 94 may be sized and configured to support, position, house, or otherwise contain light 92, which may be positioned above or below fitting opening 89. It should be understood, however, that electric component or light 92 may be positioned further from such components, such that the electricity generated may be transported away from the components via a power cord or other system.
 If the electric component 92 is an LED light, the light may be used to illuminate underwater pool water, to provide accent lighting to landscape and surrounding areas, to detect the pool water temperature (such as by glowing a different color based on water temperature), or for any other appropriate use. One benefit of this system is that a power supply is not needed in order to provide electricity for the component; the power generated by the generator 30 from the fluid flow is harnessed and delivered to an electric component, such as light 92. A further benefit is that the fitting, the generator, and the electric component (such as an LED light or light system) are integrally formed into one unit, such that unit may be separately purchased and installed. Another benefit of this embodiment is that fittings 88 are generally easy to install. To install a fitting that has been modified with a generator system 30 and/or an electrical component 92 can be done without separate tools or electrical experience. A homeowner may purchase and easily install a modified fitting in a pool return opening in order to provide a illuminated pool experience. The LED light 92 may be a single color light, an interchangeable light (based on a programmed or programmable circuit board), a changing or color-rotating light, a moving or a stationary light, a white illuminating light (for safety or visual exposure) or a colored light for an interesting pool display.
 For example, as shown in FIG. 13, a modified fitting 96 (which contains a generator and an LED light housed therein) may be positioned against an existing pipe 100, such that water flowing from the pool system and into the pool travels through fitting, which generates electricity to illuminate the light. This electricity may be used to power an LED light or any other component positioned within fitting 96 or elsewhere. As shown in FIG. 14, fitting may also be provided with a threaded component or adapter 98, which allows fitting to be used with a threaded pipe 102.
 In one embodiment, there is provided a method of supplying electricity to a light system integral with a pool or spa fitting 88, 96 by providing a generator system 30 integral with the pool or spa fitting 88, 96, and causing water to circulate through the generator system via water from a pool or spa water return system, such that the water interacts with the generator system in order to generate electricity; and then supplying at least some of the generated electricity to the light system 92 or other electric component integral with the pool or spa fitting in order to illuminate the light system. The light system may be one or more LED lights. Additionally or alternatively, the fitting, the generator, and the light system are provided as a single integrated unit.
 There is also provided a modified fitting for a pool or spa system, comprising: a fitting face 88, an element 94 extending from the fitting face comprising a generator 30 positioned therein; and an electric component 92 associated with the modified fitting.
 The foregoing is provided for purposes of illustrating, explaining, and describing embodiments of the present invention. Modifications and adaptations to these embodiments will be apparent to those skilled in the art and may be made without departing from the scope or spirit of the invention.
Patent applications by Dindo Uy, North Hollywood, CA US
Patent applications by Scott Yankie, Simi Valley, CA US
Patent applications in class Combined or convertable
Patent applications in all subclasses Combined or convertable