Engineers in California were inspired by the collective movement of these aggregations to design marine wind turbines that use, in a much more efficient turbulence. The traditional wind turbines with large blades rotating should be spaced to avoid turbulence from other turbines.
This limits the productivity of a wind farm about two watts per square meter. The new design, however, achieves an efficiency ten times higher. The new turbines are being tested in the California desert, according to a study published in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
The fluid dynamics in the movement of a school can apply to a wind farm. The wind farm model uses vertical axis wind turbines that take advantage of the turbulence from multiple directions. The breakthrough, the study is that the new wind turbines are deployed in a matrix based on fluid dynamics used by schools of fish.
“Organizing the location of wind turbines according to the vertices of the movement of fish is definitely an innovative approach,” said aeronautical engineer Robert Whittlesey, the California Institute of Technology. “The fish are aligned in such a way that optimize propulsion,” said Whittlesey in the study, and this can be adapted to the matrix of a wind farm.
The new design puts pairs of turbines spinning in the opposite direction to channel air currents to nearby turbines and minimizing energy loss through turbulence. According to John Dabiri, one of the authors, “although the connection between wind farms and schools of fish may seem strange, actually is logical from the standpoint of the physics of fluids.”
The new design also has other advantages. The turbines are only 10 feet high, considerably lower than traditional wind turbines, and therefore less affected not only the landscape but are less harmful to birds and bats. The big question now is whether the design work on a large scale wind farm.
“It’s an interesting idea, but has not been absolutely proven,” said John Loughhead, Center for Energy Research in the UK. “Furthermore, the vertical axis turbines have to withstand great stress. It is difficult to build a turbine light enough to spin easily while rigid enough to withstand strong vibrations.”