When it comes to resistance to alternative energy, opponents of wind turbines often point to the noise pollution wind farms can create during their operation as a reason to block development of the technology, especially close to residential areas.
However, new research into making wind turbines quieter and more efficient is being conducted all over the world; the newest innovation comes from Cambridge University, thanks to a research study that sought to investigate the flight characteristics of owls could put an end to the objection.
According to Cambridge professor Nigel Peake, the leader of the research project, certain owl species rely own stealth in order to hunt. These owls have developed an evolutionary adaptation that allows them to fly in complete silence, but only recently have Peake and his team discovered how this stealth adaptation works – and how it may be replicated to help silence wind turbines.
The scientists examined the wings of several stealthy owl species and took note of how the leading edge of the wings have a bristle-like comb while the back edge is fringe-like and porous. This unique characteristic helps to reduce air turbulence at the trailing edge of the wing, according to Professor Peake – this effectively muffles the sound of their flight.
With this new data in hand, the research team sought to replicate the structure of the owl wing through the design of a new coating that would affect the sound of a spinning turbine blade in a similar way. Using 3D printing technologies, the scientists say the end result could be a reduction in perceived sound to 30 decibels at 300 meters, which is the typical distance between residential areas and most wind turbines.
While the new technology is still in its early development phases, hopes are running high that this will impact the proliferation of wind farms in a positive manner.