While we've already seen that large-scale wind turbine blades which are shaped like humpback whale fins can be more efficient, what works for big turbines doesn't necessarily work for little ones. In fact, a new study suggests that for small-scale units, copying seagull wings may be the way to go.

"Blades designed for large wind turbines usually don't have good aerodynamic efficiency when scaled down," says Dr. Jorg Schluter, a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Australia's Deakin University.

"We saw the potential to improve the generating capacity of the small-scale turbines and looked to the sky for ideas to improve the blade design. Nature has a way of finding impeccable solutions and I think many of us have stood at the shoreline at some point in our lives and marvelled at sea birds soaring in the breeze, mastering aerodynamics better than anything manmade."

With that in mind, Masters student Arun Joseph Thomas set about testing seagull wing-shaped blades via a computer simulation. Utilizing wind data collected in the Australian city of Geelong, he ultimately determined that a small-scale turbine with the bioinspired blades would deliver 10 to 15 percent more power than one with conventional blades.

"The curvature of their wings has been optimized over millions of years to extract the most out of the air at these smaller scales," says Thomas. "The integration of the airfoil shape of a seagull's wing into the design of a turbine blade increases the generating capacity of the turbine and suggests there is greater commercial potential for these small-scale turbines."