Getting inspiration from a fish, researchers are looking at making wind turbine blades out of advanced materials that will change shape to make the systems more efficient and longer lasting.
This article from U.S. News & World Report says the blades with changing aerodynamic profiles will best suit whatever the prevailing wind conditions bring:
“The idea was born from a simple observation of a fish in an aquarium,” said researcher Asfaw Beyene, a mechanical engineer at San Diego State University. “Many flying and swimming animals have superior efficiencies than manmade devices. The primary difference between natural motion and motion of manmade devices is lack of geometric adaptability to varying flow conditions.
“In flying and swimming creatures, the geometries morph to fit to a flow condition,” Beyene added. “In man-made devices, typically the geometry remains rigid in spite of widely varying flow conditions.”
Beyene is leading one team exploring morphing blades for wind turbines. Another team is working at the University of Bristol in England.
“The wind can be very harsh on blades — turbines turn off if the wind gets too much, or else the blades will break fighting the wind,” explained researcher Paul Weaver, an aerospace engineer at the University of Bristol.
“A morphing blade uses the wind to its advantage rather than fighting it, adapting its shape to get greater performance,” Weaver added. “This has the potential to significantly relieve unwanted stresses in the blades, increasing their efficiency and helping to prolong their life.”
Researchers believe that today’s glass and carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic blades can be controlled by an electric signal, and future wind blades made of urethane rubber will be able to flex, bend and twist shape to reach the optimal angles that get as much energy from the wind as possible.