Friday, May 18, 2007

Yet Another Wind Power Design

A seemingly simple alteration a wind turbine blade’s traditional shape could result in huge improvements in efficiency.

WhalePower Corporation out of Toronto, Canada has designed a turbine blade with rounded, teeth-like bumps along the leading edge. The company’s name is a nod to the humpback whale, whose flipper was the inspiration for the design.

The agility of the humpback whale is astonishing, given that they can be over 50 feet long, weigh nearly 80,000 pounds, yet move quickly and tightly in the water. One of the animal's advantages, according to scientists, is the unique row of bumps or “tubercles” along the leading edge of their flippers that dramatically increase the whale’s aerodynamic efficiency. Specifically, researchers found a 32 percent lower drag and 8 percent improvement in lift from a flipper with a serrated edge compared to a smooth one.

Businessman Stephen Dewar heard about the humpback research and contacted one of the scientists involved, Professor Frank Fish of West Chester University in Pennsylvania. After a few meetings, they enlisted the help of some local engineers and formed WhalePower, taking a cue from Mother Nature and modeling their blade design after the whale’s flipper.

WhalePower claims that their turbine design can capture more wind energy at much lower speeds than traditional designs. The channels created by the teeth at the blade's edge cause separate wind streams to accelerate across the surface of the blade in rotating flows. These “energy-packed” vortexes increase the lift force on the blade. For example, Dewar told the Toronto Star that this design produces the same power at 11 miles per hour that one would expect at 18 miles per hour. Furthermore, he claimed these channels prevent airflow from moving along the span of the blade and past the tip, which can create noise, instability and a loss of energy. By keeping the air flow nicely channeled, more wind is captured and noise is reduced.

Dewar sees this “biomimicry” design – the fusion of biology and engineering – reaching beyond wind power.

“’This changes the game,’ says Dewar, adding that any system using a fan or turbine could also benefit from the new design. This includes everything from better turbines for hydroelectric generation to residential ceiling fans that use less electricity. ‘If we've got what we think we've got, then the range of applications is staggering.’”

The Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Ontario Power Authority have contributed over $60,000 USD for early research and to encourage collaboration with a wind engineering group at the University of Western Ontario. The next and arguably most crucial step to commercial production is independent, third party verification of the blade’s performance.

Cross posted at Green Options

1 comment:

neil said...

If these guys are correct in there assessment I want to know where I need to go to invest! That is unbelievably cool discovery, a near 40% improvement in turbine performance? That would change the game on everything from turbochargers to wing design.