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Friday, July 11, 2008

Whale Power: Humpback Fins Inspire Wind Turbines


It has long been believed that a smooth surface makes the best air foil, so the bumpy front edge of humpback whale pectoral fins seemed remarkably inefficient. In the latest example of using "animal architecture" to inspire human technological innovations, Frank Fish of West Chester University in Pennsylvania has studied the mechanics of the humpback whale fin and applied the shape to the blades of wind turbines. It turns out the bumps on the fin help decrease drag in certain instances, which probably gives the whale more efficiency in making tight turns while it condenses schooling fish like herring. The results are being applied to create a more efficient source of wind energy via Whale Power, Fish's start-up company with the clever tagline "Building the energy future on millions of years of field tests". For instance, the first wind tunnel experiments on traditional air foils had a stall angle of 16 degrees. Using Fish's newly designed turbines, they don't experience stall until 31 degrees. This new technology will hopefully revolutionize the efficiency of generating wind power, and could conceivably eventually be applied to all blades such as those in ceiling fans, decreasing their power consumption. The above photo of a humpback whale pectoral fin was taken last summer in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

2 comments:

save our field said...

hi,
Was browsing through blogs after updating mine and saw yours - nice to know that ordinary people the world over are doing their bit to care for the environment. Great photos.
Here's my blog about a little piece of Wales, UK (a diffent sort of Wales!)- a little more ordinary in content than yours, but something I care a lot about drop by if you get the chance http://savegangesfield.blogspot.com/

Monika Wieland said...

Thanks for letting me know you found my blog, and I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'll definitely drop by yours as well and let you know what I think.