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Whale Flippers Inspire Efficient Ocean Turbines


Biomimicry has given us everything from electronics displays to Velcro. Now we can thank nature for weaning us off unsustainable energy sources. Researchers from the United States Naval Academy have figured out that whale flippers can solve one of the most vexing problems associated with underwater tidal flow turbines.

Underwater turbines convert energy from the ocean's tidal flow into electricity, but researchers in the past have had trouble grabbing useful energy from low-speed tidal flows. By adding humpback whale flipper-inspired tubercles (bumps) to the leading edge of each turbine blade, Naval Academy researchers found that they were able to extract more energy from low-speed waves—without hurting performance when waves rushed in at high speeds.

According to Science Daily, the research could lead to new underwater turbine designs. We'll be watching WhalePower, a startup that designs tubercle-inspired wind turbines (pictured above). The company's whale-based designs can already be seen in the Tubercle Technology HVLS (High Volume Low Speed) fan, a product sold in partnership with industrial and agricultural fan manufacturer EnviraNorth Systems Ltd. And that's just the beginning. WhalePower claims that more whale-inspired fans, turbines, and rotors will all be available soon.