Cavernous Mouth Inspires Artistically Designed Hydrogenerator

The basking shark's unusual feeding mechanism inspired an art student from Detroit to design a hydroelectric generator using the same mechanics.

If I’ve said it once (and I have on this blog), I’ve said it a hundred times (which I have on this blog.) I love it when science imitates nature. Why reinvent a solution to a problem on which Mother Nature already has spent eons to optimize the best solution?

The latest example comes from my current home state of Michigan where the University of Michigan’s hydrodynamics lab is testing a Michigan man’s idea for a new type of hydro generator. More like a wind turbine, the generator uses a river’s flow to spin a turbine that in turn generates electricity. The idea is not new, but it took an artist to turn to nature for an optimal solution.

Anthony Reale isn’t an engineer; he’s an artist. Just this past December, he completed an art degree at the College for Creative Studies (CSS) in Detroit, where he earned a bachelor’s in product design. Then, while watching a documentary about the second largest fish in the ocean, the basking shark.

The animal looks like it has a jet propeller for a mouth. As it swims, water rushes into the gaping mouth where it is compressed as the animal’s throat begins to constrict it. This causes the water to speed up before being further sped up by the gills, creating a slip stream around and behind the animal. The shark uses the fluid dynamics to catch and filter small bits of prey. Reale used the double nozzle configuration to create a turbine blade 40 percent more efficient than current models.

The prototype dubbed Strait Power has been tested in the hydrodynamics lab’s 100-yard-long, 22-foor-wide, 10-foot-deep tow tank. Reale and the group testing the device are hopeful that it may soon help power research projects in remote areas, such as the University of Michigan’s ongoing projects in Alaska. Rather than lugging in generators and fuel, or constructing a potentially harmful dam, researchers could insert Strait Power into local, rapidly flowing rivers.

As Reale is fond of saying, “Strait Power is a hydroelectric solution without the dam problem.”

About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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