Lessons learned from the whale have inspired United States Naval Academy researchers to tackle one of the biggest challenges in ocean turbine technology: the low velocity associated with tidal flows and the difficulty of extracting useful energy from low speed flows in current designs.
"We designed a novel blade modification for potential turbine performance improvement, which was inspired by humpback whale flippers, with the addition of tubercles, or bumps, to the leading edge of each blade," says Mark Murray, a Naval Academy engineering professor. Previous research demonstrated the addition of biomimetically derived protuberances (technology that mimics nature) improved stall characteristics and aerodynamic performance."
The modified “whale blades” proved to be more effective for energy extraction at low speeds. Significantly, the blades did not degrade performance at high flow speeds or increase the mechanical complexity of the turbine.
Application of this whale-inspired turbine design could create turbines that are more effective in converting low velocity tidal flow energy into electricity, as well as being substantially more economically viable.