Whale fin study directly improves wind turbine energy efficiency

July 17, 2008 by  

Researchers are working to translate the natural innovations in Dolphin & Whale evolution into manmade technologies on land, air and sea.

Frank Fish of West Chester University in Pennsylvania began to study the humpback whale fin after he noticed bumps along the front edge of the flipper. “It just didn’t make sense,” Fish said. One of the cardinal lessons of fluid mechanics is that the leading edge of a fin or wing needs to be smooth to create the flow that provides lifting force.

Through modeling and wind tunnel studies done by colleagues, Fish determined that the bumps on the whales’ fins do indeed serve an important purpose. Among its advantages is it overcomes what’s known as “stall” — the angle at which a wing no longer experiences lift, but only drag, so it loses its ability to act as an airfoil.

Putting bumps across the leading edge of a wind turbine would mean that the blades can be oriented at a higher angle to capture more of the wind without worrying about stall — which can damage the turbines.

Fish has teamed up with Stephen Dewar to form the Toronto-based company WhalePower to commercialize this approach. They are also targeting industrial fans. “We can move more air and ventilate more area with fewer blades,” Fish added. The whale-inspired fans also use 20 percent less power and operate with one-fifth the noise of a standard fan, Dewar said.

From Discovery Channel: Read more


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