The preliminary findings of a study that examines how wind turbines on farmlands interact with surrounding crops were presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The presentation was made by Gene Takle, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory, and Julie Lundquist, assistant professor in the University of Colorado at Boulder's (CU-Boulder) atmospheric and oceanic studies department.
Researchers found that the turbine blades that generate renewable energy might also help corn and soybean crops stay cooler and drier, help them fend off fungal infestations and improve their ability to extract growth-enhancing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and soil.
According to Takle, turbine blades channel air downward, in effect bathing the crops below with the increased airflow they create.
‘Our laser instrument could detect a beautiful plume of increased turbulence that persisted even a quarter-mile downwind of a turbine,’ says Lundquist, who also is a joint appointee at the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
Lundquist's team used light detection and ranging to measure winds and turbulence from near the Earth's surface to well above the uppermost tip of a turbine blade. Both researchers stress that the early findings have yet to definitively establish whether wind turbines are beneficial to the health and yield potential of soybeans and corn planted nearby. However, their finding that the turbines increase airflow over surrounding crops suggests this is a realistic possibility.
Wind turbines also may have positive effects on crop moisture levels. Extra turbulence may help dry the dew that settles on plants, minimizing the amount of time fungi and toxins can grow on plant leaves, according to the study. Additionally, drier crops at harvest help farmers reduce the cost of artificially drying corn or soybeans.
Another potential benefit to crops is that increased airflows could enable corn and soybean plants to more readily extract CO2, a needed fuel for crops, from the atmosphere and the soil, thus helping the crops' ability to perform photosynthesis, according to the study.
The research was funded or supported by Ames Laboratory, the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the U.S. National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, CU-Boulder and NREL.
SOURCE: University of Colorado