Scientists develop owl feather-inspired coating to minimise wind turbines sound

22 June 2015 (Last Updated June 22nd, 2015 18:30)

Scientists from the UK's University of Cambridge have developed a coating material inspired by owl wings to make wind turbines quieter at increased speeds, in collaboration with researchers at three US institutions.

Owl feather

Scientists from the UK’s University of Cambridge have developed a coating material inspired by owl wings to make wind turbines quieter at increased speeds, in collaboration with researchers at three US institutions.

Researchers have developed the prototype by studying owls, which fly silently.

The prototype developed by the scientists imitates the intricate structures of owl wings, which are claimed to reduce the amount of noise produced by wind turbines.

Scientists claimed that the application of the coating material will allow the wind turbines to run at faster speed, generating more energy without causing noise.

Cambridge Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics professor Nigel Peake who led the research told: "Many owls, primarily large owls like barn owls or great grey owls, can hunt by stealth, swooping down and capturing their prey undetected.

"While we’ve known this for centuries, what hasn’t been known is how or why owls are able to fly in silence."

Peake along with the team of researchers from Virginia Tech, Lehigh and Florida Atlantic Universities studied the owl’s feathers using high resolution microscopy to develop the material.

Peake added: "No other bird has this sort of intricate wing structure.

"The structure of an owl’s wing serves to reduce noise by smoothing the passage of air as it passes over the wing, scattering the sound so their prey can’t hear them coming."

"Much of the noise caused by a wing, whether it’s attached to a bird, a plane or a fan, originates at the trailing edge where the air passing over the wing surface is turbulent.

"The structure of an owl’s wing serves to reduce noise by smoothing the passage of air as it passes over the wing, scattering the sound so their prey can’t hear them coming."

By observing the owl’s intricate feathers, the researchers developed a covering that will scatter the noise.

During previous experiment, the scientists used wedding veils to cover the turbine blades which claimed to have reduced the noise as much as 30dB.

Researchers are preparing to further optimise the coating and use it on a functioning wind turbine.

The US National Science Foundation and the US Office of Naval Research funded the research, and the researchers presented their findings at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aeroacoustics Conference in Dallas.


Image: A close-up view of a flight feather of a great grey owl. Photo: courtesy of J Jaworski.