Energy

Seagull-inspired blades could give small-scale wind turbines a power boost

Blades shaped like seagull wings may significantly increase the power output of small-scale wind turbines
Blades shaped like seagull wings may significantly increase the power output of small-scale wind turbines
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Blades shaped like seagull wings may significantly increase the power output of small-scale wind turbines
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Blades shaped like seagull wings may significantly increase the power output of small-scale wind turbines

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."

Source: Deakin University

6 comments
Lance
If the blade diameter is the size of a seagull's wing span then sure use the seagull wing as a model.
rude.dawg
Imagine all the birds getting killed by wind turbines with seagull wings. Oh the irony....
jerryd
This grant, investor seeking BS is just that. As is the BS whale fins are more efficient. A bird's wing has completely different things to do than a WT blade. And I say that as a builder of small WGs, it's blades, other aerodynamic linear wind engines, etc . For instance my lightweight semi variable pitch thin composite blades with no extra parts, would chew these up in power produced by factor of at least 2.
christopher
Simulations and Models are not real. If they did not build it, they don't yet realize that it doesn't work. They probably did build it, but don't want to waste all their effort telling us it didn't work, so they're "overlooking" that hiccup to protect their funding/reputation...
ljaques
Hmm, does anyone know of any company scaling down large wind turbine blades for use on smaller turbines? I believe that most manufacturers design and build blades for the size turbine they wish to power. And many try a dozen different styles while doing so. As jerryd said, this may be a fundraising tickle with massaged data input. rude.dawg is likely right, too.
Jorg Schluter
Currently, most small wind turbines use airfoil profiles that were designed for larger applications. This study shows that airfoil profiles from birds, such as seagulls, are more adapted to the Reynolds-number range that small wind turbines use. With that, current designs can be improved by 10-15%. All simulations are validated with two different sets of wind tunnel experiments and power coefficients of 0.4 can be achieved.