14 Smart Inventions Inspired by Nature: Biomimicry

By Amelia Hennighausen and Eric Roston - 2013-08-19T12:01:13Z

Photographs by  \Chris Newbert/Minden Pictures; Courtesy John O. Dabiri/California Institute of Technology

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A Very Fishy Wind Farm

Wind turbines are the Colossus of the modern landscape, their blades sweeping circles more than a football field in diameter. Critics call them unsightly and say that the rotating blades clobber unsuspecting birds. There’s an efficiency problem, too. Turbines have become more powerful, but their size requires that they be spaced far apart. That means a wind farm takes up a lot of land. 

John Dabiri of Caltech found a solution underwater. He built an experimental wind farm — the Caltech Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE) — in which the location of turbines relative to each other takes advantage of the air flow among them. The turbine placement was determined by studying the wake vortices produced by schools of swimming fish. 

Dabiri’s 30-foot-tall turbines have twirling vertical blades that gather energy generated as wind flows through the wind farm. In essence, the blades take advantage of the wind's behavior, for energy production, the way that fish take advantage of the water's behavior for forward movement.

A Dumb Question about biomimicry.

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