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Ask Nature

The web site,, offers many examples of how nature has evolved solutions in animals and plants to increase their energy efficiency and survival. Here are two examples.

Wind turbines generate electrical power at vast scales, without the release of greenhouse gasses, but being very large, even small defects in their design can carry significant costs in efficiency.

An owl’s wing is legendary for its silence. The feathers along the trailing edge of the wings feature a specialized fringe  that forces air to mix at specific locations, muffling the sound of air flowing around them. This allows owls to fly silently and soar efficiently to catch prey.

Biome Renewables designed their serrated “FeatherEdge” technology for the outer portion of a turbine blade. As air rushes around the blades at speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, some of it curls down into the space between long, serrated teeth, generating one sound wave, and some of it curls down at the tips of the teeth, generating a second sound wave a moment later. The troughs of the first sound wave align with the peaks of the second and cancel each other out.

Wind tunnel tests have shown that this technology can reduce noise levels by 50 to 80 percent. That reduction of noise and turbulence behind the blade allows the turbine to spin slightly faster in wind of the same speed, generating more power.

Biome Renewables also turned to whirling maple seeds for inspiration. The lopsided weight of a maple seed causes it to spin at a particular angle, which redirects the wind along the seed’s slender length, accelerating flow towards the tip. This causes the seeds to swirl around a central point, allowing them to remain aloft longer, so they can be carried farther away by the wind.

image of powercone
image of maple seed

The spinning blades of a wind turbine create suction that pulls air into the middle area where the blades meet. These currents can’t be captured by the blades and are effectively wasted. To capture that extra power, the company designed the “PowerCone,” a device that fits onto the turbine’s center and smoothly channels the air back onto the blades–a trick they learned from a falling maple seed. This gives the turbines added torque, which increases their efficiency and electricity-generating ability.

What else might we learn from nature about how to live more sustainably?

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