WHALEPOWER TUBERCLE TECHNOLOGY
"Building the future of energy on a million years of field tests," as the designers of this bio-mimicry entry like to say, WhalePower Tubercle Technology is based on the bumps on the leading edge of the flippers of Humpback Whales – for turbines.
WIND AND WAVES
Yes, his name is Dr. Fish. And yes, he has spent a lot of time studying whales (which are mammals, of course, not fish).
The result of this concentration is one of the INDEX:Award 2009 finalist designs in the Community category. And while you might be familiar with Humpback Whales and their legendary ability to get around in the sea despite their size and weight, the word that comes into play here may be new to you.
"Tubercle" refers to the bumps or protrusions on whales' flippers, sometimes creating a serrated appearance. And applying the science of that tubercle feature has created the nominated Whale Power design for more effective turbine blades in water, air, steam.
As it happens, Dr. Fish's first awareness of the tubercle character of the leading edge of a whale's flippers was in his observation not of a real Humpback but of a sculpture of one. Analysis in biomechanics, however, revealed that some bio-mimicry, as it's called (when humans take a cue from nature for some element of conscious design), could capitalize on what MIT's Technology Review refers to as the whales' hydrodynamic edge.
"The work gives theoretical weight," wrote Tyler Hamilton in a 2008 article in Technology Review, "to a growing body of evidence that similar bumps could lead to more table airplane designs, submarines with greater agility and turbine blades that can capture more energy from the wind and water."
Harvard research cited in that article validated controlled wind-tunnel tests of model flippers at the US Naval Academy. Drag in those tests was reduced by 32 percent and lift was increased by eight percent.
More coverage of the concept and the WhalePower work has been carried by Scientific American, Science magazine, Nature, and ScienceDaily, with abstracts being published by the American Physical Society.
And as WhalePower goes into finalist contention with other designs in the INDEX:Award 2009 competition, it might interest those who think "WhalePower" is something just for large installations that in fact, the lowly house fan might someday benefit from tubercle technology. WhalePower's first product for market is an industrial fan, and the design team says products for public consumption could be in the works soon.