When in Doubt, Steal from Nature
In the relatively new area of study called biomimicry, scientists are tipping their hats off to nature for her sustainable designs. For instance, whale physiology can help make these wind turbines generate more power, while tropical fish can inspire energy efficient cars. After all, no one wants to reinvent the wheel when the blueprint already exists – especially when it’s presented in the most intelligent and elegant of ways.
Image: Whit Welles
Toronto-based company Whalepower mimics the design of a humpback whale’s fin to retrofit wind turbine blades. Scientists were scratching their heads at the hulking humpback, which achieves turning manouevres that seem impossible for such a huge animal. But the answer to this whale’s agile abilities came when tests showed that angling lumps called tubercles on its pectoral fins in different directions in relation to water resistance can increase or decrease lift and drag. Most importantly, stall could be delayed significantly; minimising resistance on one fin while maximising it on the other enabled a whale make those fast turns.
Photo: Pbase (Dan Kiely)
These findings were applied to wind turbine blades, and the result is impressive: a great improvement in Annualized Energy Production (AEP), which translates to the creation of more electricity with the same amount of wind power. What’s more, this amazing Tubercle Technology also creates a more stable, durable and quiet turbine.
And in a second example of biomimicry, the boxfish is used as the model for a futuristic concept car:
With fins that look not nearly large enough to propel its stocky, square-set body forward, the yellow boxfish seems an unlikely design for a luxury car company to mimic. But don’t let its lack of aerodynamic flair fool you – this brilliantly coloured creature has more than a few features that Mercedes-Benz found favourable for its bionic concept car.
Image via car body design
Driving onto the design scene in 2005, the bionic car is energy efficient, lightweight and safe. The stocky boxfish shape is actually an aerodynamic advantage rather than a hindrance; achieving a drag coefficient (cd figure) of just 0.19, this car has most other compact cars beat. And just like the boxfish, this car can book it using much less energy than you think; under European tests, the car consumes 20 percent less fuel than other cars in it’s class, at just 4.3 L of fuel per 100 km.
Image: Ryan Somma
Possessing lightweight hexagonal plate-like scales fused into a protective armour, the boxfish is also able to escape unharmed from fender benders with coral and other fish. Bionic car engineers used the computer simulations to mimic this design, creating a vehicle structure that increased stiffness by an impressive 40 percent while lowering weight by 30 percent.