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Van Scholten Dr.

Hager Scientific Inquiry April 20, 2012

How biomimetic design and application can help humans to adapt as a sustainable ecosystem

“Those who are inspired by a model other than Nature, a mistress above all masters, are laboring in vain” – Leonardo daVinci

Humans have completely redesigned the planet upon which we live. Land alteration, fossil fuel consumption, disruption of hydrological, energy, and nutrient cycles, and artificial selection of certain species for economic purposes (Alberti et al 2003) all exemplify the parasitic lifestyles humans have created in what has been coined ‘society’ in the modern era. In order to continue existence without the threat of breeching the tipping points that hold the foundation that keeps our society functioning, we must change the way we construct our world if we want to support its inhabitants and evolve more sustainably. We must be prepared to adapt to both the catastrophically devastating effects of anthropogenic climate change and the ramifications of socioeconomic duress implied as a result, due to business as usual scenarios via the development of technology and infrastructure based on sustainable design. Given that nature has evolved over the past 3.8 billion years, it seems that here may be the right place to look for inspiration toward a sustainable future. Concrete laden cities sprawl like the neurons of the brain, connecting large urban areas with the

abundant. A strong focus on local generation of power must also be taken into regard for the future of our civilizations to live in harmony with the planet. and energy efficient – given the environment in which they are found. Aspects of our own civilization indicate competition between our manmade ecosystem and the planet on which all species’ development occurs. The broad field of biomimicry allows scientists the opportunity to emulate the way that biological organisms manipulate energy for their own use.nature. This paper looks to demonstrate that research within the field of biomimetics will help us determine the best ways to make the changes necessary to become a more sustainable society. ideas and products are being researched and developed to perform the tasks necessary to make the transition to clean. thanks to the sun. were capable of surviving in the first place. structurally ideal. . there is a wonderful model to replicate . wind. and locally produced energy from different sources. To do so requires a thorough understanding of how the individuals that make up natural ecosystems have evolved to be energetically innovative. Humans have burned fossil fuels for the last 150 years. This concentrated solar energy that is fossil fuel has been a blessing for industrialists since the mid 1800’s and is now understood to be extremely unsustainable (Hopkins 2008). Cities are also responsible for over 1/3rd of all greenhouse gas emissions so the problem needs to be remediated (Zari 2010). The threats associated with climate change are going to require a way to both remediate and adapt to a society that works to incorporate facets of natural ecosystems into our own. Over half of the world's population lives within urban areas and spend approximately 70% of their time indoors. though it has taken nature hundreds of millions of years to compress and heat the remains from dead biomass that. To power our future. such as the sun. we are going to need to redesign our entire energy infrastructure. of human society. and tide. Fortunately. By imitating nature.

000 (LaVan 2006). Research into biomimetics looks to redesign solar generation by idolizing the mechanisms and efficient functional form of trees and leaves in the process of photosynthesis itself. Scholes et al. Revisiting nature. for instance. we notice that trees are capable of utilizing the sun’s energy to create sugar it uses to grow and develop in a much more efficient manner. more efficient. It is responsible for all life on Earth. such as green fluorescent protein. 2011).Solar Solar energy is by far the most productive source of energy. commercial buildings. we can utilize most of the available energy. A 35 kW PV system in 2003 cost over $200. implying a severe requirement to fix this. there is certainly progress in the development of antenna structures intended on solving the mechanical and electrical issues associated with designs for artificial. a feature found in the eye of nocturnal moths. creating a photocurrent and acting as a semiconductor (LaVan 2006). Since we do not have to use the solar radiance to create sugars for the survival of the system. even at a depth of 80 meters below the Black Sea (LaVan 2006. even today. alternative photosynthetic electrical generation via an understanding of how a green sulfur bacterium is capable of utilizing almost 100% of light energy available (~300 photons). and biomimetic ways of harvesting light. And while several problems may exist. for instance. could be used to . The implications for small scale solar harnessing can be recognized as beneficial toward residential homes while the technology can be interpreted for large-scale application as well as. Antireflectivity. This curiosity will only lead to better. Previous photovoltaic and thermovoltaic electrical generation systems were inefficient (~15%) and expensive. however. is being developed to be more efficient due to an inspiration from nature. One method of doing so includes the provocation of self-aggregation of certain photochromic proteins. in an array that allows solar energy to cycle through. Solar technology.

scientists have increased efficiency by 0. With a bit of design upgrade. The radially staggered design currently in place at some heliostat field sites is not as efficient as it could be. By designing a heliostat field in the same layout of a sunflower. The blades have a larger attack angle (increased . resulting in more solar energy entering the system. the blades can be retrofitted with the intent to emulate the tubercles found on the fins of humpback whales. Modern windmill designs that have become emblematic of the renewable energy generation are not as efficient as they could be. a more efficient solar cell (Sun et at. the performance of the windmill increases at low speeds. there is a strong need to develop antireflective coatings. allowing higher volume of electrical generation. When that design is engineered in turbine blades. wind power is another major source of renewable energy production that can take a lesson from nature in order to improve efficiency and design. Since over 30% of solar energy is reflected off of traditional solar arrays. an evolutionary trait that makes them hydrodynamic and therefore better equipped to secure their food. silicon-based photovoltaic systems. Concentrated solar thermovoltaic technology can be very efficient and beneficial for future renewable energy generation but it surely is not the only approach. as recent research shows. Physicists have developed antireflective coatings inspired by these nocturnal moth's eyes that has proven to be more 35% more antireflective than commercial coatings.36% while decreasing the heliostat field by almost 16% (Noone et al. Wind To meet the demands of energy in the future. representing 36% of the systems currently in use. 2012). 2008). and therefore. Large-scale thermovoltaic operations are excellent methods of gathering vast quantities of solar energy in areas that are exposed to a lot of sun. whose seed pattern follows the golden ratio.drastically improve the efficiency of modern.

Trees possess the amazing ability to handle strong climactic events with extreme stability due to the process of damping. Tidal Tidal power can supply energy to populated costal areas in a sustainable.000 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per year. the system will not stall (Bhushan 2009). The reports find that the nation’s waves and tides could potentially produce up to 1.from an original 11° to an improved 17 °) better increasing the chances that. The other beneficial aspect of damping by branching is the potential for a source of energy generation. Though the article does not go into detail.420 TWh annually” (Scott 2011). transforming the movement of each oscillation into a bit of electricity the structure could then output. One of the design methods for doing just that have taken inspiration from nature. Branches allow the tree to dissipate up to 30% of the initial impact in one oscillation (Theckes 2011). non-polluting way by harnessing the vast amounts of energy available. Perhaps kinetic generators could be incorporated at sites of high stress. Material for the trunk of such structures is a primary cause for the efficient dissipation as well and research has gone into developing biomimetic material to emulate the woods of certain trees (Theckes 2011). Recovery of this energy requires efficient machines designed to harness that power. but of the entire structure itself. specifically in the way sea plants oscillate . “The United States uses about 4. Though the field is still pretty young. or artificial trees possessing the aforementioned artificial leaves for photovoltaics could drastically improve the viability and efficiency of modern energy generation. the implications for adopting this technology to both small-scale wind turbines. at low speeds. According to the United States Department of Energy. Mimicking nature cannot only better increase the efficiency of the blades. it could present some interesting finds in the future.

approximately 12% of current global demand” (Zabihian & Fung 2011). or blueprint of naturally selected evolutionarily optimized design (Knippers & Speck 2012). This technology is impressively capable of providing potential energy to fulfill almost 40% of our domestic energy needs (Scott 2011) yet contrasting evidence claims that “worldwide wave energy could potentially provide up to 2x106 MW of electricity. which focuses on optimizing space with minimal materials and cost does not necessarily focus on the aesthetic. A coupling of two proprietary devices from the company allow their “Biowave” to fluctuate according to the speed of the tides. Generating energy is only one of several areas of exploration within the field of biomimicry. has plans for wave farms off the coast of Australia already in the initial development phase. Designing the structures that contain these new energy generating devices will require some biological inspiration as well. more research into the viability of the technology must be done. 3. we are going to have to adapt to more . and social qualities associated with the requirements for sustainable architecture.8 billion years. With such a discrepancy between figures. man-made structures get the benefit of learning from what has been successful over what seems to be the longest research and development period in biological history. Structural design Architectural design has looked to nature for inspiration centuries before the field of biomimetics ever existed. Buildings exemplify the metropolitan centers where billions of people around the world live and work. The company Biopower Systems. generating 250 KW of energy that gets converted to an onshore grid station (Purchase 2011). Post-modern architecture.on the seabed according to the ebb and flow of the tide. By reevaluating how we as a society want to live and function in our urban environments in the future. While biological organisms have had only the ‘bauplan’.

however. in the mid 20th century developed the first patented geodesic domes. Zimbabwe. They can regulate moisture and temperature by creating a series of sponge-like tunnels that soak up excess moisture that keeps the rooms within the mound at a relatively low humidity and temperature. while impractical as a dome due to sealing issues and materials. others are looking to the foundation upon which nature builds any structure. compatibly spherical triangles arranged in such a way that creates a spherical dome that could be self supported under its own weight (Kippers & Speck 2012). “the Eastgate building was designed to have a relatively thermally stable interior environment that uses minimal mechanical cooling (and therefore produces less GHG emissions)” (Zari 2010). The impressive aspects.sustainable design by following nature's blueprints. This type of design. at the microscopic level. termites are capable of regulating the internal heat. are on the inside. architects have a good source of inspiration that could help redesign the buildings of the future to better cool and use heating and air conditioning more efficiently. which resembles the domes. Sir Buckminster Fuller. These semi-spherical lattice shells are actually naturally found in nature in the form of fullerenes. Termites will use organic material (up 95%) including soil. their own excrement and saliva to build up rock solid mounds that can get up to twenty feet tall. and gaseous compounds (methane and carbon dioxide) on a daily basis. . for instance C60. silt. While this research focuses on the macroscopic level of biomimetic design. In Harare. Utilizing the mechanisms they use to become carbon-neutral. though seasonal variation is slightly harder to maintain (French et al 2010). Termites. clay. By designing specific channels around the sides. moisture. have an extremely complex and useful “building” that supports their whole colony. though small as they are. has inspired the field of architecture to utilize more natural structures.

Velcro and barbed wire are . this review only touches the surface of the potential strategies and processes humans could learn from in order to generate renewable and sustainable energy sources that power our highly demanding energy futures. indicating the need for future architectural design to incorporate strategies to limit the emissions generated through construction and the life of the project (Zari 2010). Challenges exist in the field of large scale developments of CO2 mineral sequestration including the need to remain energy efficient or net neutral while separating the base elements (Mg. bricks containing carbon sequestering compounds may be useful in architectural design to construct buildings that act as carbon sinks instead of sources. 2011). carbon emissions have been increasing by 2% annually since 1970. Carbonic anhydrase. the enzyme responsible for sequestering and managing carbon within mammals works at atmospheric pressure and temperature making it ideal for use in any moderately temperate region (Fradette 2007). Several mammals need to manage CO2 levels via respiration and there are companies working on mimicking the process through which they undergo (Zari 2010). Conclusion Because the field of biomimicry is so vast. There are several projects currently being worked on as well as thousands of biomimetic designs already in practice. If this process is determined in the near future. this product can be useful in sequestering much of the world’s existing emissions if released within the ocean (Zevenhoven et al. Generating bicarbonate. One method that could have an impact on carbon emissions is to exploit biological attempts at carbon sequestration and use them as inspiration to solve human problems with the built environment. Si. and Ca) in order to create to be economically viable.Despite global attempts at greenhouse gas mitigation.

2010. Philosophical the Royal Society overview.S..R. wind.A. 2007.. Bharat. The challenge of biomimetic design for carbonbuildings using termite engineering. neutral Hopkins.53 (12): 1169-1179 challenges for Transactions of Bhushan. The sun. D. Integrating humans into ecology: Opportunities and studying urban ecosytems. 2008. Insect Science. CO2 solution and climate change. 2011). 5–7. A look at the ways that nature generates energy efficiently is extremely important in the design of future technology. Green Books . resulting in the evolution of traits that can benefit from the repetition of these natural forces. J. Rob. Marina. References Alberti. B. 17: 154-162.J. 367:1445-1486 Fradette. 2009. Bioscience. We will continue to learn and study the processes that nature has evolved and develop clever and creative ways to adapt to the energy demands and climate change mitigation techniques that help us get to the sustainable future we strive to create.two simple designs that emulate important functions found in nature and have been for a number of years (Shu et al. Biomimetics: lessons from nature . White River Junction (VT). et al. French. we have finally begun to look closer to the lessons nature can teach us at the macroscopic and microscopic levels. BioInspired! 5(2). 2003.M. and tide have acted on biological mechanisms for millennia. As humanity has progressed. Shiday. The transition handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience.

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