Nature is one of the best teachers to humans. In the past, scientists received revelations from humpback whale fins to design large-scaled wind turbine blades. In comparison, recently, Australian scientists are inspired by seagull's wings for their small-scaled wind turbine blade design. The newly-designed turbine blades successfully improve generating capacity up to 10%~15%.
After millions of years of evolution, now birds' wings are amazingly effective in aerodynamics. Scientific researchers try to observe and use bird's wing shape to develop small-scaled wind turbines.
Arun Joseph Thomas, a researcher in Australian Deakin University expressed that the curvature of seagull wings has evolved for a long time. Now the curvature enables the wings to capture the most amount of wind within the smallest area.
Large-scale wind generators are the mainstream products, and small-scale wind turbines take a small market share. Large-scale wind turbines are huge, heavy and about 100 meters high. They are efficient but their design specifications are not necessarily working for small-scale wind generators.
As technologies advance, wind power generators diversify into different formations. US Air Force used weak winds to develop new and light wind turbine "Flutter Mallard" because of inspiration of shutters. Another example is O-Wind Turbine. It is a mini sized wind turbine that is shaped like a volleyball, with a diameter of 25 centimeters, and is designed by researchers from British Lancaster University.
These small-scale wind turbines are unlike the mainstream three-bladed wind turbines that are enormous and noticeable. The smaller ones are low-cost, easy-to-carry, and applicable to many places.
However, to design new small turbines is not easy. Dr. Jorg Schluter, from the mechanical engineering dept. at Deakin University, pointed out that if designs of huge wind turbines are scaled down, their aerodynamic properties usually don't work well in smaller set of turbines.
Apparently scientists want to design small wind turbines in a new way. This Deakin University research team began to look for insights from the sky. Just like Dr. Schluter said, "Nature has a way of finding impeccable solutions."
The researchers expect seagull wings to be a better model because of their aerodynamics properties. The wings are longer, narrower and flatter. Because there are no gaps between feathers, seagulls can glide for a long time. Someone recorded that a seagull could glide for 45 consecutive minutes. Hence, the research team believes that both airplane wings and wind turbine blades can be designed in birds' wings.
After a series of tests and computer simulations, the team was able to imitate seagull wing and develop small wind turbine blades. The new-blade and turbine prototype were tested in Melbourne. The bio-inspired blades boosted 10 to 15 percent higher power than the traditional designs did.
The team has held a related patent of the new design. If this patent is able to commercialize in the future, then remote and rural areas might increase their penetration rate of renewable energy.
Dr Schluter said, just like traditional windmills, people can set up small-scale wind turbines on buildings and small sites.
Besides, small-scale wind turbines can cooperate with solar power systems. In winters, seasonal winds are strong but sunlight is weak. By contrast, in summers, there are fewer winds but more sunshine. If wind turbines and solar power systems work together, then the local power supply can become more stable.