Associate Professor John Dabiri, head of the school's Biological Propulsion Laboratory, said he studies water- and wind-energy concepts that share the theme of bioinspiration -- energy-related processes involved in biological systems.
"I became inspired by observations of schooling fish, and the suggestion that there is constructive hydrodynamic interference between the wakes of neighboring fish," Dabiri said. "It turns out many of the same physical principles can be applied to the interaction of vertical-axis wind turbines."
He said horizontal-axis wind turbines -- those with large propellers -- require a substantial amount of land to perform properly. "Propeller-style wind turbines suffer in performance as they come in proximity to one another," he explained.
But with help from the principles supplied by schooling fish, and the use of vertical-axis turbines, Dabiri said he and his team found there might be substantial benefits to placing vertical-axis turbines in a strategic array, and that some configurations may allow the turbines to work more efficiently as a result of their relationship to others around them.
Vertical turbines have no propellers; he explained. Instead, they use a vertical rotor. Because of this, the devices can be placed on smaller plots of land in a denser pattern.
The research that included graduate students Robert Whittlesey and Sebastian Liska will be tested in a Caltech field demonstration.