Bio-inspired Wind Energy: From fish schools and seagrass to better wind farms
Abstract: This talk will describe recent efforts using bio-inspired arrays of counter-rotating vertical-axis wind turbines to reduce the cost, size, and environmental impacts of wind farms. Full-scale field tests of 10-meter tall vertical-axis wind turbines in various counter-rotating configurations have been conducted under natural wind conditions over the past four years. Whereas wind farms consisting of propeller-style, horizontal-axis wind turbines produce 2 to 3 watts of power per square meter of land area, these field tests indicate that power densities an order of magnitude greater can be achieved by arranging vertical-axis wind turbines in layouts inspired by the configurations of schooling fish and seagrass beds. The higher power density is leveraged to achieve meaningful power generation at lower altitudes than required by existing systems. Notably, this improved performance does not require higher individual wind turbine efficiency, only closer wind turbine spacing and a sufficient vertical flux of turbulence kinetic energy from the atmospheric surface layer. The results suggest an alternative approach to wind farming and pose a broad array of interesting, unanswered scientific questions related to the modeling and control of canopy flows.
Biography: John Dabiri is a Professor of Aeronautics and Bioengineering at Caltech and a 2010 MacArthur Fellow. He graduated from Princeton University with a B.S.E. degree summa cum laude in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in 2001. He came to Caltech as a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow, Gordon and Betty Moore Fellow, and Y.C. Fung Fellow in Bioengineering, earning an M.S. degree in Aeronautics in 2003, followed by a Ph.D. in Bioengineering with a minor in Aeronautics in 2005. He subsequently joined the Caltech faculty. His honors include an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for his research in bio-inspired propulsion. Popular Science magazine named him one of its "Brilliant 10" scientists in 2008. For his research in bio-inspired wind energy, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine listed him among its Technology Innovators in 2012, and the MIT Technology Review magazine named him one of its 35 innovators under 35 in 2013. He is currently the Chair of the Faculty at Caltech.