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'Whale tail' makes ships fuel efficient by using wave power


There's no better way to develop more efficient marine vessels than to take cues from the animals that can effortlessly navigate the waters. In this case, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) led by postdoctoral fellow Eirik Bøckmann are working on a system inspired by a whale's tail to lower ships' fuel consumption. The mechanism looks more like flippers meant to be attached somewhere underneath the front part of the ship, but it undulates up and down as the vessel moves, just like a whale's tail. It's not the first system that takes after the majestic marine mammals, but previous attempts were designed quite differently.

NTNU has already started testing the system using a scaled-down ship, with help from Rolls Royce and two other British companies at one of Marintek's towing tanks in Norway. The ship can cross the 656-foot-long tank in seconds, but footage of the whale tail recorded by cameras in the facility prove that it works. According to the team's calculations based on the tests, it can reduce a ship's resistance when tackling waves around 10 feet high by 9 to 17 percent -- more if the hull shape is optimized for it. At this point in time, though, the team still needs to perform more tests and to make it tougher, so that it can withstand the harsh conditions faced by ships crossing vast bodies of water.

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