Scientists Study Fish Schools for Wind Farm Ideas
Presently Fluid Dynamics Expert, John Dabiri, is very much on the quest of improving designs of wind turbines. Spotting behaviours that may throw light on energy-related practices in biological system and trying to implement that in real-life situations is part of that quest and Mr.Dabiri is jubilant that he is learning lessons from a school of fish! Water-energy, and wind energy are both studied.
Challenges with the old:
Presently students and staff from Biological Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech (California Institute of Technology) are keen on finding ways to beat the challenge of space thrown by the traditional horizontal turbines. Wind farms need a lot of space to install the huge turbines to harness wind energy. And in metros where any space is at a premium, it is out of question.
Rewriting design of turbines:
Mr. Dabiri is now studying how best to transpose the design he visualized from the wake of a school of fish to practical vertical turbine design. Yes, now a vertical axis turbine is becoming a possibility. The suggestion of hydrodynamic interference found between the wakes of fish that travel side by side inspired him. He is working at the brand new Caltech Field Laboratory for Optimized Wind Energy (FLOWE). He is configuring ways to place the turbines optimally as well.
Interactions between turbines with vertical axis are very similar to the interaction between the fish traveling side by side. These turbines have vertical rotors. If they are placed in a specific pattern – in a planned array, similar to that of the school of fish, the turbines will work more efficiently. By using both clockwise and anti-clockwise rotations – the way the wake of fish moved – they are testing for increased efficiency. Another lesson learnt from the school of fish is to place the turbines so as to have the vortices in a ‘staircase’ design and not in traditional rows.
Two Caltech students, Sebastian Liska and Robert Whittlesey, under Mr. Dabiri’s guidance, have utilized the vertical-axis turbines on small plots. They are placed so that their vortices are stair like. Their computer models estimated that this approach will provide much more wind energy than the horizontal-axis turbines.
At the new lab, using six vertical turbines and keeping them mobile on special platforms, Mr. Dabiri and his team are aiming to formulate a technology to extract optimal wind energy than what is currently possible. Partnering with Windspire Energy, who provide three turbines, (and the other three turbines by another partner), Mr Dabiri is excited about the real-life on-field experiments and demonstrations. Both Mr Dabiri, and Walt Borland, Windspire Energy CEO are upbeat about the outcome.