Humpback whales inspire next generation wind turbine technology
Scientists were inspired by a unique series of bumps called tubercles on the fins of humpback whales that enable the 45-foot animal to better maneuver when capturing food. Tubercles affect the flow of air over the blade generating a vortex on each side of a specific tubercle that prevents air flow from separating and stalling.
A small history lesson how Dr Fish started WhalePower. While Dr Fish was shopping for a gift, he examined a sculpture of a humpback whale in a shop and issued a fatefully inaccurate observation:
“Look at that. The sculptor put the bumps on the wrong side of the flipper.”
The shop manager quickly set him straight. She knew the sculptor’s work and that the sculptor knew humpbacks: That’s where the bumps should be. But if the artist was right then at least part of the science of fluid dynamics was wrong. How could that be?
As it turns out, what the bumps on the humpback’s flipper are for is a deceptively difficult question and one that can only be answered with a combination of two of the most complex and difficult branches of science: fluid dynamics and biomechanics.
Dr Fish and his colleagues started the company WhalePower, it has demonstrated some impressive results by imitating the natural ridges on a humpback’s flippers in their turbine blade design. How impressive? Wind tunnel tests show the design has about one third less drag, 8 percent more lift, and a 40 percent steeper blade angle.
What does that mean? It means increased efficiency for wind power, and power generation at lower wind speeds. The design could be adapted not only to wind turbines, but to a wide variety of fans, pumps, compressors and other related applications.