Whales have given us a reliable source of energy for centuries: oil for our lamps, wax for our candles, and of course margarine. All that's required to harvest these lovely fuels is wholesale slaughter of the harmless creatures, and that's starting to go out of fashion, mostly because the whales were starting to go out of existence. But Frank Fish and fellow engineers at WhalePower have a come up with new way of harnessing energy from whales: designing wind turbines that mimic the contours of the pectoral fins of humpback whales. Doing so has made for blades that are quieter, more efficient, and operate reliably at low wind speeds.
At first blush, a humpback's fins looks like a pretty shoddy design for an airfoil — its leading edge is knobby and gnarled-looking. But the knobs actually reduce drag over the fin, allowing it to provide lift like an airplane wing only better because it works at lower speeds and higher angles to the wind.
Fish has shown that humpback designed fan blades lower power consumption by up to 20 percent on industrial fans. Now he's running tests on an experimental wind farm in Canada to see how much more power he can generate using wind turbines with fin-shaped blades.