Biomimicry is everywhere these days. It seems increasingly clear that design inspired by nature will play a great big role in our energy future. Case in point: Green Wavelength, an up-and-coming California engineering biz, has prototyped a small wind turbine, the xBEE, the elegant flapping motion of which is inspired by the buzz of insect wings (see the video below).
Borrowing design cues from nature is already changing the face of technology, especially in the swirly realm of fluid dynamics. We've seen fan blades inspired by the bumpy fins of whales, solar cells made more efficient by the texture of butterfly wings, turbine blades that mimic the hydrophobic surface of leaves, and maybe even high-MPG car coatings that are rough like shark skin.
The xBEE has a19-foot wingspan and swoops in a majestic back-and-forth pattern. Green Wavelength CEO Sabri Sansoy (an MIT grad with a master's in Aeronautics and Astronautics) says, "the prototype represents an attempt to break the mold of everyday windmill solutions that are, at best, 30 percent efficient, and seek efficiency from biological sources such as the movement of bumblebees, hummingbirds, and dragonflies." According to Jetson Green, the company "intends to produce 1-10 kW small wind turbines for home and small business uses."
Small wind turbines, the kind you can now buy for your home, are a promising technology, but as it stands, they are quite pricey relative to the amount of electricity they generate, making the ROI disappointing. We don't know enough about the xBEE to make any speculations, but it may well be a radical departure from the now-familiar turbine design that makes small wind cheaper and more efficient. Hopefully both. This helical turbine from Helix Wind is another example of taking a whole new tack.