This is an eye-opening short article. You will be introduced to the gaining term biomimicry and its innovating examples. Biomimicry has mesmerized me, and I hope you will feel the same.
Germs and bacteria have scared us, especially during this pandemic. I bet you that when the pandemic began, you wouldn’t go a day without making sure you wiped your desk as clean as possible. What if you could keep anything you have bacteria-free, protecting you from all the diseases that you have feared?
Well… they found this very interesting shark, the Galapagos shark, which is a basking shark. Even though it doesn't move very much in the ocean, it has no bacteria on its surface. 🤯 These sharks are barnacle and algae-free due to the micro-topography of their skin. The shape/structure of its skin was something that bacteria did not like to form their films on.
By mimicking that shape, companies have been able to create, films, that you can put on doorknobs, hospital railings, and all kinds of surfaces. Sharklet Technologies is working on trying to use this structural technology to combat bacteria and superbugs in healthcare working to solve a huge global healthcare crisis.
In the United States (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there were 1.7 million healthcare infections from microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. Healthcare-acquired infections totalled up to 100,000 deaths each year in the country. In the United Kingdom, healthcare-acquired infections cost the country over 1 billion pounds per year, affecting 300,000 people in 2017.
The world needs sustainable innovation like this, and to do so, we need biomimicry.
By looking at nature for inspiration, entrepreneurs and scientists are making radical solutions to the world’s biggest problems.
Janine Benyus popularized the term “biomimicry” for innovation that is inspired by nature. In her book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997), she talks about how biomimicry is a way of inventing by looking to the natural and sustainable world for inspiration. It is about framing nature as a model (for inspiration), as a measure (answers to “what lasts”), and as a mentor (it introduces an era that is not based on what we can extract from nature but on what we can learn from it).
Janine defines biomimicry as the “conscious emulation of life’s genius.”
In other words, the intentional (conscious), learning from living things and solving challenges we want to solve (emulation), while recognizing that nature has the best solutions that have been tested by time (life’s genius).
By looking to the natural world as our models, and putting it as our mentor, we can create new ways of living that will allow us to live more gracefully on the planet.
Nature is older, wiser, smarter, and more beautiful than us. Our planet is very senior to us, it has fostered around 3.8 billion years of life, and since animals, plants, and all organisms have evolved to meet their needs within the limits of the planet. In our planet’s vast history, we’ve only taken less than mere moments. Unfortunately, however, we’ve developed destructive habits that are changing nature’s equilibrium, the way it has always been. Only recently, we have begun to understand the consequences of our actions. But that is for another article.
What are these limits or boundaries that life on earth has adapted for a long time? biomimicry.org describes them as the Earth’s Operating System
- Earth has a magnetic field (gravity)
- Earth has finite water, air, energy (sunlight)
- Earth is Cyclic (as a result everything on earth is also cyclic. Think about it, you are also cyclic 😉)
- Earth balances itself even in constant change
In the process of adapting, life on earth has created communities and systems. A system is a group of separate elements that act according to a set of boundaries to form a unified whole
The earth is a living system where one depends on the other to survive. Although there may be competition and predation at an individual level, as a planet we are strong, flexible, and interdependent.
What consistent patterns can be found in nature? Below is a new collection of nature’s lessons that have been published by the Biomimicry Institute
- Nature uses only the energy it needs and relies on freely available energy.
- Nature recycles all materials.
- Nature is resilient to disturbances.
- Nature optimizes rather than maximizes.
- Nature rewards cooperation.
- Nature runs on information.
- Nature uses chemistry and materials that are safe for living beings.
- Nature builds using abundant resources, incorporating rare resources only sparingly.
- Nature is locally attuned and responsive.
- Nature uses shape to determine functionality.
If we are able to replace unsustainable practices with ones that apply to these fundamental characteristics of nature, most of our problems with nature will be solved.
I predict that, even if something doesn’t apply to an environmental perspective, these characteristics guarantee you a sustainable product from all perspectives, economically, politically and socially. Tell me what you think in the comments.
But if you look at our world right now, we are not following any of these natural principles. We are unnatural on Earth 😉. Rather than:
- Using only the energy we need, relying on freely available energy, we have created an entire economic ecosystem with a foundation of over-consumption and over-production.
- Recycling all materials, we are over-producing plastic, greenhouse gasses chemicals, and byproducts, that are hard to recycle and repurpose in nature. The excess CO2 in the air that we have created, will take centuries to be consumed by plants to return to the world's natural cycle.
- Optimizing (and not maximizing), our models of production and consumption maximize to the detriment of the environment. On the other hand, nature regenerates systems over time by optimizing the use of materials and energy to its fullest.
- Cooperation, our economic models thrive on competition and wealth creation. If we could funnel the world’s intelligence on the world's biggest problems, I think we will be seeing big changes.
- Using resources wisely, we are stressing the environment of its resources. In nature, plants in arid environments conserve water for longer periods and take advantage of widely available resources in the biome. Industrialized farms are doing the exact opposite… what does this look like to you? For me, a massive machine in a desert that strips groundwater at an incredible rate.
Here are a couple more examples of biomimicry:
- The Mercedes Benz bionic car inspired by the Boxfish. . The car has a structure providing the least resistance inspired by the boxfish. The fish body construction is unique. Parts with more strain are constructed softer and parts with greater load are built stronger. As a result, the bionic car inspired by nature, weighs a third less, contributing to extremely low fuel consumption.
- “Air-gen” Renewable energy inspired by bacteria. Current renewable energy systems are not reliable. They operate only during certain conditions of the atmosphere, for instance, wind energy is dependent on whether there is wind or not. “Air-gen”, contains an electrically-conductive film which contains protein nano-wires produced by the bacteria sulfurreducens. The film adsorbs water vapour from the air surface and through surface chemistry, generates a flow of electricity between the two electrodes.
- “Lotus-Effect Paint by Sto Corp” Keeping dirt of walls inspired by the lotus leaf. Owners often have to use harsh chemicals to remove dirt and fouling from building walls. The microtextured and super-hydrophobic surface of the paint, maintains an extremely small contact area for dirt and water. This is the same reason behind water striders, walking on the surface of the water.
There are so many more examples of sustainable innovation out there that are making a difference. Through this short article, you have learned the fundamentals and examples of biomimicry and why it is extremely fascinating for me. 🎊🎉 I will go deeper in subsequent articles, so stay tuned!