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Insect Wings Could Inspire Tomorrow's Wind Turbines

16 Feb 18:00 by Steve Walia

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New research shows that future generations of efficient wind turbines could be based on the anatomy of insect wings. Already, existing prototypes are 35pc more efficient than traditional rotor blades. 

Although wind turbines are already responsible for 4pc of the world's total energy, they only generate electricity when the wind conditions are right. Now, thanks to scientific research, turbine blades are being designed more efficiently using inspiration from the flexible wings found in the natural world. If they progress to a commercial stage, they could help wind developments become a valuable alternative to fossil fuels.

The flexibility of insect wings means that drag is reduced and high wind speeds aren't a problem - the insects adjust the aerodynamics in the direction they wish to travel to increase power. The new prototypes use similar approaches. The scientific team behind the innovation built three options with a rigid, semi-rigid and flexible turbine system and motor. 

In wind tunnel tests, the most flexible blades proved to be a minimal success only, but the moderately flexible blade turbines performed better than the rigid versions, operating across a wider range of wind conditions and generating up to 35pc more power.

The improvement was found to come from adjustments to the pitch angle. As the blades flexed, the pitch angle adjusted and optimised efficiency. This led to a greater amount of power generation, regardless of whether the wind speed was high or low.

The next stage of the research work will be to scale up the technology to a working full-size turbine, which will require a search to find the right material.

The engineering is expected to take some time, but the team behind it are excited about the potential of so-called morphing blades.