How three companies are solving problems using biomimicry

Humans are great at engineering solutions to problems, but when we compare the ways nature solves an issue to the technologies humans have created to resolve the identical problem, they often aren’t very similar.

For instance, when you needed to stay two objects together, a human would use glue, an artificial (often somewhat toxic) engineered polymer. But mussels and coral that follow rocks and piers have developed a biological mechanism and substance free of poisons and that also works underwater. Why not mimic that process? 

At Circularity 22 last week, a session led by the Biomimicry Institute explored how some firms are looking towards nature for inspiration. Biomimicry is the design paradigm that models products, materials, structures and systems on systems and practices present in nature and biology. 

“How can we learn from nature?” said Jared Yarnall-Schane, director of innovation on the Biomimicry Institute, in the course of the session. “[By] using nature for inspiration to create human design and human products that fit inside product cycles.” 

Seeking to nature for design inspiration is especially necessary for those looking for to embrace circular approaches. For one thing, nature doesn’t create waste. So solutions inspired by the natural world should inherently be more circular than the linear-engineered models humans have developed. Nature views waste as a positive input, and plenty of firms highlighted during Yarnall-Schane’s talk have copied that example. For instance, a dead tree doesn’t go to waste in a forest. It becomes a feed source for fungi growth that ultimately becomes wealthy healthy soil for the subsequent generation of trees. Animal poop isn’t a substance to be disposed of, it becomes fertilizer.   

Sarah McInerney, program manager for the Ray of Hope Prize on the Biomimicry Institute, suggested business leaders interested by finding solutions from the natural environment should define a particular problem statement the corporate is trying to solve after which take their teams to national parks, natural history museums and zoos as an R&D exercise.

“It doesn’t matter what your problem statement is,” she said. “Whether it’s business development or product development. The concept is to maneuver away from this concept of human-centered design into life-centered design.”

Listed here are three examples of industry problems, a proof of the standard ways used to approach them and insight into how modern firms are rethinking the answer in a latest way inspired by the natural world. All three firms noted here participated within the Biomimicry Institute’s Ray of Hope Prize program prior to now two years. This system recognizes startups creating products or processes inspired by the natural world and awards as much as $100,000 in grant funding for the projects.  

White because the driven snow

Problem statement: White dye is required in lots of industrial and consumer applications. Where can or not it’s sourced more sustainably?

Traditional approach: Titanium dioxide is in just about anything that is coloured white — from paint to toothpaste. This mineral is traditionally mined in Sierra Leone, Quebec or South Africa, which causes environmental degradation, harsh labor conditions and waste. 

Biomimicry innovation: Switzerland-based company Unimaginable Materials looked to the brilliantly white Cyphochilus Beetle for the inspiration for an alternate. They found that its body has structures that diffuse light waves, making it completely white. The corporate’s design team created the same structure out of cellulose waste that produces a white pigment and, in response to Yarnall-Schane, creates a brighter white than titanium dioxide and may also be cheaper at scale. 

[By] using nature for inspiration to create human design and human products that fit inside product cycles.

Magic mushrooms

Problem statement: The constructing sector goes to grow dramatically over the subsequent 30 years. Houses and other buildings will need more strong, long-lasting materials. 

Traditional approach: The development sector has created many artificial materials that fulfill these requirements, but they use quite a lot of energy to create, are hard to recycle and typically discarded when a home is torn down for a latest one. Housing insulation is one of the problematic materials for the sector for these reasons, and its usage is predicted to rise 6 percent over the subsequent few years. 

Biomimicry innovation: Materials company Biohm saw that mycelium, the structure within the soil under fungi, has the same structure to constructing insulation and will offer the identical heat protection as synthetic materials. The corporate is growing insulation materials from fungi at a facility within the startup’s home country of the U.K., and it’s even creating strains which can be fire-resistant or could break down plastic. Biohm can be making particle boards for construction from fungi. Growing the materials isn’t energy-intensive, and the corporate is using leftover sugarcane because the feedstocks making its approach a part of the circular economy.  

A concrete (ocean) jungle

Problem statement: More people live near coastlines than ever, at the same time as sea levels rise put these locations at greater risk of climate catastrophe. We want to make coastlines resilient to storms, erosion and rising water levels. 

Traditional approach: Seawalls have traditionally been made out of concrete boulders that contain toxic materials to sea life, and their smooth faces don’t offer habitat for coral, barnacles and mussels to grow.

Biomimicry innovation: Econcrete, based in Israel, has created a concrete structure that mimics the rough and varied textures of the natural world to encourage the expansion of marine life. The corporate says the chemicals utilized in its material aren’t toxic to fish and other wildlife within the oceans, encouraging species to interact with it as whether it is a natural feature of the seafloor. One other potential profit: Because the coral grows on the concrete, it creates calcium carbonate that sequesters carbon and interacts with the chemicals within the materials, making it even stronger and more durable. 

[Missed Circularity 22? Catch up with all our coverage.]

This text has been updated to correct details in regards to the Biomimicry Institute’s Ray of Hope Prize program.


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