A bio-inspired study on tidal energy extraction with flexible flapping wings

Wendi Liu, Qing Xiao, Fai Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)


Previous research on the flexible structure of flapping wings has shown an improved propulsion performance in comparison to rigid wings. However, not much is known about this function in terms of power efficiency modification for flapping wing energy devices. In order to study the role of the flexible wing deformation in the hydrodynamics of flapping wing energy devices, we computationally model the two-dimensional flexible single and twin flapping wings in operation under the energy extraction conditions with a large Reynolds number of 106. The flexible motion for the present study is predetermined based on a priori structural result which is different from a passive flexibility solution. Four different models are investigated with additional potential local distortions near the leading and trailing edges. Our simulation results show that the flexible structure of a wing is beneficial to enhance power efficiency by increasing the peaks of lift force over a flapping cycle, and tuning the phase shift between force and velocity to a favourable trend. Moreover, the impact of wing flexibility on efficiency is more profound at a low nominal effective angle of attack (AoA). At a typical flapping frequency f * = 0.15 and nominal effective AoA of 10°, a flexible integrated wing generates 7.68% higher efficiency than a rigid wing. An even higher increase, around six times that of a rigid wing, is achievable if the nominal effective AoA is reduced to zero degrees at feathering condition. This is very attractive for a semi-actuated flapping energy system, where energy input is needed to activate the pitching motion. The results from our dual-wing study found that a parallel twin-wing device can produce more power compared to a single wing due to the strong flow interaction between the two wings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number036011
Number of pages16
JournalBioinspiration & Biomimetics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2013


  • flapping wings
  • propulsion performance
  • power efficiency
  • wing energy


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