Whales and dolphins influence new wind turbine design

Jul 08, 2008
Dolphin
The dolphin uses a high efficiency mechanism to generate large amounts of thrust by the action of its tail fins. Credit: E. Paterson

Sea creatures have evolved over millions of years to maximise efficiency of movement through water; humans have been trying to perfect streamlined designs for barely a century. So shouldn't we be taking more notice of the experts? Biologists and engineers from across the US have been doing just that.

By studying the flippers, fins and tails of whales and dolphins, these scientists have discovered some features of their structure that contradict long-held engineering theories. Dr Frank Fish (West Chester University) will talk about the exciting impact that these discoveries may have on traditional industrial designs on Tuesday 8th July at the Society for Experimental Biology's Annual Meeting in Marseille.

Some of his observations are already being applied to real life engineering problems, a concept known as biomimetics. The shape of whale flippers with one bumpy edge has inspired the creation of a completely novel design for wind turbine blades. This design has been shown to be more efficient and also quieter, but defies traditional engineering theories.

"Engineers have previously tried to ensure steady flow patterns on rigid and simple lifting surfaces, such as wings. The lesson from biomimicry is that unsteady flow and complex shapes can increase lift, reduce drag and delay 'stall', a dramatic and abrupt loss of lift, beyond what existing engineered systems can accomplish," Dr Fish advises. "There are even possibilities that this technology could be applied to aeronautical designs such as helicopter blades in the future."

The work centres on studies of vortices, tornado-shaped water formations that develop in the wake of the animals. "In the case of the humpback whale, vortices formed from tubercles (bumps) on the front edge of flippers help to generate more lift without the occurrence of stall, as well as enhancing manoeuvrability and agility," explains Dr Fish.

"In the case of the tails of dolphins, vortices are formed at the end of the up and down strokes. These vortices are involved in the production of a jet in the wake of the dolphin that produces high thrust. By regulating the production of the vortices, the dolphin can maximize its efficiency while swimming."

Source: Society for Experimental Biology

Explore further: Sheep flock to Eiffel Tower as French farmers cry wolf

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How the hummingbird achieves its aerobatic feats

Nov 23, 2014

(Phys.org) —The sight of a tiny hummingbird hovering in front of a flower and then darting to another with lightning speed amazes and delights. But it also leaves watchers with a persistent question: How ...

What makes flying snakes such gifted gliders?

Mar 04, 2014

Animal flight behavior is an exciting frontier for engineers to both apply knowledge of aerodynamics and to learn from nature's solutions to operating in the air. Flying snakes are particularly intriguing ...

Brown students model bat flight in virtual reality

Dec 17, 2013

If you want to get a good look at a bat, a cave is a pretty good place to go. But on a Thursday in mid-December at Brown's Granoff Center, there were virtual bats flapping about in a cave of a different sort.

Recommended for you

Male sex organ distinguishes 30 millipede species

14 minutes ago

The unique shapes of male sex organs have helped describe thirty new millipede species from the Great Western Woodlands in the Goldfields, the largest area of relatively undisturbed Mediterranean climate ...

How can we avoid kelp beds turning into barren grounds?

4 hours ago

Urchins are marine invertebrates that mould the biological richness of marine grounds. However, an excessive proliferation of urchins may also have severe ecological consequences on marine grounds as they ...

Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

19 hours ago

Nora Besansky, O'Hara Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the University's Eck Institute for Global Health, has led an international team of scientists in sequencing ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

COCO
not rated yet Jul 09, 2008
sounds fishy to me

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.