The heaviest soaring bird in the world inspires wind farm projects

The heaviest soaring bird in the world inspires wind farm projects

Turbine mesh with wings. Loan: Energy (2024). DOI: 10.1016/

Mechanical engineers at the University of Alberta have partnered with a renewable energy company to design and test wind turbines based on the wings of the heaviest soaring bird in the world: the Andean condor, which can fly up to 240 kilometers in a single day without flapping its wings.

C-shaped condor-inspired “wings” at the tip of the turbine blade reduce drag, potentially increasing turbine efficiency by up to 10% under optimal conditions, according to research published in the journal. Energy.

The wings of soaring birds have also been adapted for use on commercial and military aircraft around the world to increase their lift, says co-author Brian Fleck, a professor of mechanical engineering and an expert in fluid dynamics.

“We used to have planes with straight wings,” Fleck says. “Now we see them with the ends tucked in, and there is a reason for that.”

The bend reduces the swirl of air flowing from the wingtip due to differences in air pressure at the top and bottom, he says, which is essentially a waste of energy. Thanks to its wings, a 15-kilogram condor can stay in the air for such a long time while expending a minimum amount of energy.

Working with Biome Renewables, which developed the innovative design, Fleck and his team simulated the rotation of the turbine blades using computational fluid dynamics, with promising results.

“This will matter,” he says. “This could make some of our wind farms more profitable on days when it’s not too windy – a little more energy would be enough for the same amount of property.”

Designed as a retrofit to existing turbines, the winglet could lower the price of electricity for Albertans while reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Turbine wingtips are one example of turning to the natural world for solutions to design problems – a burgeoning field called biomimicry.

“It’s amazing how nature has evolved over millennia to create such optimal designs,” says Khashayar RahnamayBahambary, a graduate assistant and co-author of the study. “It leaves a lot of room for inspiration.”

More information:
Khashayar RahnamayBahambary et al., A numerical study of biologically inspired wingtip modifications of modern wind turbines, Energy (2024). DOI: 10.1016/

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