Biomimicry is one of the top tech trends, says expert

16th May 2018 By: Kim Cloete - Creamer Media Correspondent

Nature-inspired design – biomimicry – has been highlighted as one of the key technology trends that will shape the future and is beginning to transform industries across the world.

The rapidly growing field focuses on adapting nature’s solutions to solve man-made design challenges.

“Nature has four-billion years of experience in testing ideas that work and that last. Through biomimicry, we can look at copying nature’s genius, but also nature’s wisdom,” Biomimicry South Africa founder Claire Janisch said this week.

She told African Utility Week, in Cape Town, that biomimicry was being used across a range of sectors, from drones which copy nature’s genius, to sensors which mimic sensors in the human body.

“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.”

Janisch said the technology would soon be brought to South Africa.

Another cutting-edge example of biomimicry is how the action of the fin of the humpback whale is being used in the design of wind turbines.

The process of desalination used by mangrove trees is being mimicked by a Danish company, while Mexico University is working on a bio-inspired membrane which emulates the human lung and has captured 90% of carbon dioxide in power plant emissions.

Harvard University has created Shrilk biodegradable plastic, a fully degradable bioplastic derived from shrimp shells and silk protein, which could provide a solution for the planet.

In Harare, the Eastgate centre building has been designed and built to mimic the way termite mounds keep themselves cool. The building keeps cool naturally, without needing air-conditioning.  

Janisch said the systems seen in nature could be echoed in cities and products. 

“All of nature’s systems are distributed and diverse. As each leaf is added to the branch, it is capturing the energy and adding to the tree, not just sucking the energy,” she said, adding that this was seen in distributed systems.

In South Africa, large biomimicry projects around water treatment are starting to benefit communities, farmers and the ecosystem.

Janisch said innovative ways of managing stormwater and wastewater were under way in an informal settlement near Franschoek, where a natural water treatment system was helping to restore and regenerate the Berg river. Previously, wastewater and stormwater would wash into the Berg river.

Much can be learned from forests and grasslands too.

“Forests are rich with the Internet of Things and sensors. Almost every ecosystem on our planet, like forests and grasslands, have worked out how to grow and develop, continually producing value.”

“The forest is a lesson for all of us. It’s rich with the Internet of Things and sensors. Biomimicry shows that the regeneration business is totally feasible.”

Janisch, who is also the co-founder of the Biomimicry for Africa Foundation, said Biomimicry Zimbabwe and Biomimicry Nigeria would soon be launched.