Biomimicry uses solutions from nature to address man-made problems

An innovative and rapidly growing field of design is set to transform industries across the globe – and it will soon be coming to South Africa. Speaking at African Utility Week, held from 15 to 17 May 2018 in Cape Town, this key technology trend was discussed by Biomimicry South Africa founder, Claire Janisch.

What is biomimicry?

According to the Biomimicry Institute, biomimicry is “an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies”.

“Nature uses extraordinary shapes to lead to efficiencies,” said Janisch. An example of this is the PAX water mixer called the Lily impeller. The Lily replicates nature’s spiral flow pattern, seen in whirlpools, and has used this to significantly improve the performance and energy use of mixing water storage tanks.”

This is just one example of how patterns in nature can be used to develop technologies that are more efficient and better for the planet.

Innovations in this regard include the Eastgate Centre in Harare, where the building has been designed to mimic termite mounds, which are built to keep termites cool. By taking a page from Mother Nature’s book, the need for an air-conditioning system is eliminated, making the building more energy-efficient.

Other examples of biomimicry are the use of the action of the fin of humpback whales in the design of wind turbines, and the development of Shrilk, a fully degradable bioplastic created from shrimp shells and silk protein by researchers at Harvard University.

In Japan, the front of upgraded high-speed bullet trains were modelled after the beak of the Kingfisher bird, minimising tunnel boom (the loud shock wave that was created when the bullet trains entered the tunnels – this shockwave was so powerful that it caused structural damage to some tunnels) and increasing the overall aerodynamics of the trains. Japanese engineers drew inspiration from the way the Kingfisher can dive into water to hunt at very high speeds, without causing a huge splash.

Biomimicry in South Africa

Locally, biomimicry is used in the treatment of water. Janisch discussed how the polluted Berg River was being regenerated and restored through innovative ways of managing storm water and wastewater that previously washed into the Berg River. A natural water treatment system is being implemented in an informal settlement near Franschoek to curb the problem.

Nature-inspired design really isn’t anything new, but combining modern materials and techniques in the age of the Internet of Things seems to be heralding a new, more responsible way of not just living on the planet, but living with it.

Check out the video below to learn more.

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