INTERVIEW: Megan Schuknecht, Biomimicry 3.8 Institute – on the potential of Biomimicry

Drops on bambooMore and more we tend look towards Nature when designing. Not a bad idea at all as Nature’s potential is enormous. In an interview with Danish Design Centre, Megan Schuknecht from the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute gives some examples of how companies can use Biomimicry in product development.

What is biomimicry’s potential, as you see it?
Biomimicry holds the potential to show us a more sustainable way to live while maintaining a high quality of life. By studying and applying lessons from nature, we can improve the way we manufacture materials and move our manufacturing processes into closed loop systems. We can better manage our energy and water resources, create smarter transportation technologies, improve agricultural production, and enhance ecosystem services in our cities and developments.”

Megan Schuknecht

Megan Schuknecht, Director of University Education, Biomimicry 3.8 Institute

Please mention three products based on biomimicry that you find particularly interesting.
“Arnold Glas, a company based in Germany, produces a biomimetic insulated glass sheeting called ORNILUX. Scientists estimate that globally up to one billion birds die annually due to collisions with glass windows, and this glass is designed to reduce bird collisions. The coating was inspired by orb-web spiders, which incorporate UV-reflective silk strands into their webs, in part to deter birds from breaking through and destroying their handiwork.

Calera Corporation manufactures a cement using a process that mimics the way some marine organisms, such as corals, utilize minerals from seawater to form their skeletons. Essentially, the process captures carbon dioxide from flue gas and converts the gas to stable solid minerals. Calera is able to do this at near ambient temperatures and pressure, similar to coral. The process requires no energy-intensive mining and actually sequesters an estimated half ton of CO2 for every ton of cement produced.

“Scientists estimate that globally up to one billion birds die annually due to collisions with glass windows, and this glass is designed to reduce bird collisions.”

Another product I like is the Groasis waterboxx, designed by Pieter Hoff and produced by AquaPro Holland. The Groasis waterboxx is a container about 50 cm in diameter that serves as an incubator to help newly planted trees survive. The box is filled with water just once, and thereafter captures additional water through the collection of rainwater and condensation. A wick delivers small amounts of water to the plant’s root system each day. The box also protects young seedlings from wind and excessive sunlight, and the water stored in the container buffers the effects of thermal variation. The design of the Groasis waterboxx is based on the way nature sows seeds.”

Do you see a special potential in certain properties of nature that should be applied to products?
“I am really interested in material gradients and composite structures found in nature, such as within a bamboo stem. Bamboo has a tensile strength comparable to steel, can bear twice the compressive force of concrete, and is resistant to shear.

Yeast, microscopic fungi, and other microorganisms are capable of breaking down hydrocarbons in crude oil. Globally, we’re still dependent on hydrocarbons, so what if we could emulate the process by which microorganisms break down hydrocarbons in order to clean up polluted waterways and protect pipelines from corrosion, without using heavy doses of toxic chemicals that also have negative environmental impacts?

“… what if we could emulate the process by which microorganisms break down hydrocarbons in order to clean up polluted waterways and protect pipelines from corrosion, without using heavy doses of toxic chemicals that also have negative environmental impacts?”

I’d also love to see structural color become more commonplace. Structural color is created by the play of light on a particular organism’s architecture, often at the micro- or nano-scale, without the use of pigments. Structural color can be found in butterfly wings, bird feathers, beetle shells… Many, many scientists research structural color, and although it has been applied in a few products, it has not been applied widely or with great commercial success. Many pigments contain toxic elements, and being able to produce a multitude of colors using light and structure alone could have big benefits for human health and reduce the amount of toxic waste we produce in the coloring or dying process.”

More info on Biomimicry

The Biomimicry Institute
AskNature.org
Biomimicry online course
Magasinet Zygote Quarterly
Biomimicry groups on LinkedIn
Biomimicry on TED.com


The interview was made in connection to the conference “Naturens Design“, an afternoon conference by Danish Design Center in late august 2012


Maria HørmannAbout Maria Hørmann
Maria is editor of Hello Materials Blog and Project Manager of the Danish Design Centre’s exhitibion team. She follows closely the development within the environmental area, and has a broad, professional knowledge of materials.
> More about Maria Hørmann

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