Wind Turbine Without Propellers Seeks to Protect Birds From Collisions; System Tested at Facility in Hokkaido

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A miniature of the Magnus Vertical Axis Wind Turbine is seen in a cage with wild birds at the Environment Ministry’s wildlife center in Kushiro, Hokkaido.

KUSHIRO, Hokkaido — A “propeller-less” wind turbine is being tested as part of efforts to prevent bird strikes from occurring at wind power generators.

The Environment Ministry has set up a smaller version of the wind turbine at its rehabilitation facility for wild birds in Kushiro, Hokkaido. The ministry, which is conducting the trial in collaboration with the Institute for Raptor Biomedicine Japan, is checking how birds react to the equipment to identify challenges when using the turbine in a natural environment.

According to the ministry, about 80 birds have died since 2000 after flying into wind power generators, including white-tailed eagles and Steller’s sea eagles, both designated as national natural treasures. The number of killed birds could be even higher when taking offshore facilities into account. The high speed of propellers on the generators made them difficult to see, so birds would collide with them.

The test began in early December and is being conducted at the ministry’s Kushiro-Shitsugen Wildlife Center, which is located near the city’s large marshland. The new generator, known as the Magnus Vertical Axis Wind Turbine, was developed by Tokyo-based startup Challenergy Inc. Two cylinders are located either side of a central axis, and electricity is generated as they rotate around the axis. As the cylinders rotate at a slower speed than regular wind generators, it is thought that the Magnus turbine would reduce the number of bird strikes.

Its smaller version, which is 2.6 meters tall — about one-eighth the size of the full-size turbine — operates from sunrise to sunset in a cage in which several white-tailed eagles and other birds are currently being protected. The birds will be monitored and results from the tests will be made public by the end of March, according to the ministry.

Keisuke Saito, head of the raptor institute, said raptorial species can likely keep an eye on the cylinders when rotating slowly. “The Magnus turbine has the potential to both prevent bird strikes and generate renewable energy,” he added.

Lower environmental impact

According to Atsushi Shimizu, chief executive officer of Challenergy, the blade tips of propeller-type wind turbines rotate at a speed of over 200 kph, making it difficult for birds to see and avoid them. In contrast, the cylinders of the Magnus turbine rotate at only one-eighth to one-tenth the speed of the propellers. In addition, the Magnus is much quieter, with sound levels reaching the equivalent of a ventilation fan or the outdoor unit of an air conditioner.

Currently, the Magnus is being operated on a trial basis in the Philippines and on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa Prefecture. In the Philippines, a turbine that stands 20 meters tall and can generate 10 kilowatts has been set up near a lighthouse. The electricity generated by the turbine is used to illuminate the lighthouse, which is popular as a tourist spot.

“This is the world’s first attempt to put the Magnus turbine, which aims to coexist in harmony with nature, into commercial use,” Shimizu said. “Even though we’re facing challenges to expand its capacity of generating power, we’ll continue to make further efforts.”