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Leading edge of humpback whale fin gives it aerodynamic advantage.  WhalePower Corp has studied and patented this leading-edge performance phenomenon.Marine scientists have long marvelled at the acrobatics and agility of humpback whales, given these monster swimmers can reach 16 metres in length and weigh as much as 13 Hummer SUVs. Despite their enormous size, humpbacks are efficient hunters able to make sharp, tight turns. [1]
Leading edge of humpback whale fin gives it aerodynamic advantage. WhalePower Corp has studied and patented this leading-edge performance phenomenon.
Marine scientists have long marvelled at the acrobatics and agility of humpback whales, given these monster swimmers can reach 16 metres in length and weigh as much as 13 Hummer SUVs. Despite their enormous size, humpbacks are efficient hunters able to make sharp, tight turns. [1]

WhalePower Corp, a Toronto-based company, is redesigning wind turbine blades with a humpback-inspired bumpy leading edge, allowing a turbine to capture more of the wind's energy, and at much lower speeds. The new "Tubercle Technology" blades produce more energy more efficiently than conventional smooth blades.

So far the bumpy blades are still in the testing phase, but Stephen Dewar, head of research and development, says, "The energy production from these blades is extraordinary. These might prove to be the most efficient turbine blades ever made."

Whalepower hopes to finish testing and begin production within 2009. At least 10 wind power companies have already shown interest in the new blades, with good reason.

Wind turbines are but one of a multitude of potential applications of this technology, which could benefit any system using a fan or turbine, or other related architectures such airplane wings. This could increase the efficiency of hydroelectric turbines, or reduce the energy consumption of ceiling fans.


Contents

Official Website

Latest Developments

Independent third-party verification is being pursued.

Features / Attributes

  • Allows wind turbines to harness wind beginning at lower wind speeds.
  • Enables deployment of wind farms in new regions, with lower wind speeds.
  • Any system using a fan or turbine could benefit from the design
  • Delayed stall on airplane wings can improve safety and make planes much more manoeuvrable and fuel-efficient.
    • The same benefits can also be found on ship and submarine rudders.
    • This new understanding of humpback whale flipper aerodynamics has implications for airplane wing and underwater vehicle design. Increased lift (the upward force on an airplane wing) at higher wind angles affects how easily airplanes take off, and helps pilots slow down during landing. [2]
    • This discovery has potential applications not only to airplane wings but also on the tips of helicopter rotors, airplane propellers and ship rudders.

Mimicking the Humpback Whale Fin

Quoting from http://www.thestar.com/Business/article/213475

The key to a humpback's agility lies in its long flippers, which feature a unique row of bumps or "tubercles" along their leading edge that give the wing-like appendages a serrated look. Researchers such as Frank Fish, a professor of biology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, have found that the tubercles dramatically increase the whale's aerodynamic efficiency.
In one particular study conducted inside a controlled wind tunnel, Fish and research colleagues at Duke University and the U.S. Naval Academy saw 32 per cent lower drag and an 8 per cent improvement in lift from a flipper with tubercles compared to a smooth flipper found on other whales.
They also discovered that the angle of attack of the bump-lined flipper could be 40 per cent steeper than a smooth flipper before reaching stall – that is, before seeing a dramatic loss in lift and increase in drag. In an airplane scenario, that's typically when you lose control and crash.
"That stall typically occurs on most wings at 11 or 12 degrees at the angle of attack," says Fish, adding that with the humpback design "stall occurred much later, at about 17 or 18 degrees of attack. So the stall is being delayed."

How It Works

Quoting from http://www.thestar.com/Business/article/213475

The tubercles channel the wind as it hits the front or "leading" edge of the blade. The channels cause separate wind streams to accelerate across the surface of the blade in organized, rotating flows. These energy-packed vortexes seem to increase the lift force on the blade.
Furthermore, the channels prevent airflow from moving along the span of the blade and past its tip, a troubling situation on smooth blades that can cause noise, instability and lead to a loss of energy. By keeping the airflow channelled, more of the wind is captured and noise is greatly reduced.

Data

Smooth (left) and scalloped (right) idealized humpback whale flipper models used for wind tunnel testing of lift, drag, efficiency, and stall behavior. While testing, only one of the models is mounted in the wind tunnel. These idealized, scale models, milled from clear polycarbonate sheet, use a NACA 0020 sectional profile (20% thick).
Smooth (left) and scalloped (right) idealized humpback whale flipper models used for wind tunnel testing of lift, drag, efficiency, and stall behavior. While testing, only one of the models is mounted in the wind tunnel. These idealized, scale models, milled from clear polycarbonate sheet, use a NACA 0020 sectional profile (20% thick).

Prototype tests to date have demonstrated "outstanding performance," most importantly during light winds, with the tubercle-lined blades capable of more than doubling performance at wind speeds of 8 metres per second. "We're getting the kind of power (regular blades) produce at 8 metres per second at 5 metres per second." [3]

  • Leading-edge tubercles delay stall on humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) flippers (download pdf) - by biomechanicist Frank Fish of West Chester University, Pa., fluid dynamics engineer Laurens Howle of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and David Miklosovic and Mark Murray at the U.S. Naval Academy. "The humpback whale flipper is unique because of the presence of large protuberances or tubercles located on the leading edge which gives this surface a scalloped appearance. We show, through wind tunnel measurements, that the addition of leading-edge tubercles to a scale model of an idealized humpback whale flipper delays the stall angle by approximately 40%, while increasing lift and decreasing drag." (Physics of Fluids; May 2004 issue) [4]
  • Passive and Active Flow Control by Swimming Fishes and Mammals (PDF; 1.2 mb) - What mechanisms of flow control do animals use to enhance hydrodynamic performance? Animals are capable of manipulating flow around the body and appendages both passively and actively. Passive mechanisms rely on structural and morphological components of the body (i.e., humpback whale tubercles, riblets)... (Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics; 2006. 38:193–224)

Patents

International patent in process of being submitted worldwide.

WO/2006/042401

  • WO/2006/042401 - TURBINE AND COMPRESSOR EMPLOYING TUBERCLE LEADING EDGE ROTOR DESIGN; 27.04.2006; WHALEPOWER CORPORATION
Abstract 
A turbine/compressor comprises at least one magneto-electric device and a drive train coupled to the magneto-electric device. At least one rotor blade is coupled to the drive train. The rotor blade has a shaped leading edge with a series of spaced tubercles formed therealong.

Profiles

Company: WhalePower Corp.

The company received around $70,000 in early-stage research funding from Ontario Centres of Excellence and the Ontario Power Authority. It has also collaborated with the wind-engineering group at the University of Western Ontario.

The company understands that even if the independent tests prove firmly that the design is highly advantageous, that the wind turbine industry will be hard to break into, requiring years of in-field performance data.

Inventors

WATTS, Philip

Frank Eliot Fish is a Biomechanicist from West Chester University, Pennsylvania.

Stephen W. Dewar is a former broadcast journalist and co-producer of the 1980s nature series Lorne Greene's New Wilderness. He is a self-taught student of science with a fascination for linear and non-linear physics. He heard about Fish's research and, after a few chats over the phone, raised the idea of using the humpback design for wind turbines. Thus was formed WhalePower Corp, with Fish serving as president and Dewar handling business development and R&D. [5]

Coverage

In the News

  • A whale of a tale - Humpback flipper may be the key to better wind turbines. (Toronto Star; May 14, 2007)
  • Cleantech mindset gaining traction - a small company called Whalepower is studying the unique properties of a humpback whale's flippers, which feature tubercles (bumps) that make the whales more efficient swimmers – that is, the flippers provide more lift and less drag than smooth, sleek flippers found on most other species. Whalepower is looking at adapting this tubercle design to wind turbine blades. This could give wind turbines the ability to generate power at lower speeds when conventional turbines simply don't work. (Toronto Star, Canada; Apr 23, 2007)
  • Mimicking Humpback Whale Flippers May Improve Airplane Wing Design - Wind tunnel tests of scale-model humpback whale flippers have revealed that the scalloped, bumpy flipper is a more efficient wing design than is currently used by the aeronautics industry on airplanes. The tests show that bump-ridged flippers do not stall as quickly and produce more lift and less drag than comparably sized sleek flippers. (Duke University Pratt School of Engineering; May 11, 2004)

Other Coverage

Contact

WhalePower Corp
Toronto

Inventors, as listed on the patent
DEWAR, Stephen W. [CA/CA]; 27 Tyrrel Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M6G 2G1 (CA).
WATTS, Philip [US/US]; 5355 E. La Pasada #22, Long Beach, California 90815 (US).
FISH, Frank Eliot; 1113 Winchester Trail, Downingtown, Pennsylvania 19383 (US).

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