Biomimicry Energy Systems: What's Next?
Biomimicry (also known as biomimetics) is the process of using natural-world mechanisms, many of which have evolved over billions of years, to inspire man-made designs and technological innovations. The following examples highlight pioneering energy ideas and active areas of research, all inspired by nature:
- Termite mounds inspired regulated airflow for temperature control of large structures, preventing wasteful air conditioning and saving 10% energy.
- Whale fins shapes informed the design of new-age wind turbine blades, with bumps/tubercles reducing drag by 30% and boosting power by 20%.
- Stingray motion has motivated studies on this type of low-effort flapping glide, which takes advantage of the leading edge vortex, for new-age underwater robots and submarines.
- Studies of microstructures found on shark skin that decrease drag and prevent accumulation of algae, barnacles, and mussels attached to their body have led to “anti-biofouling” technologies meant to address the 15% of marine vessel fuel use due to drag.
- Passive heliotropism exhibited by sunflowers has inspired research on a liquid crystalline elastomer and carbon nanotube system that improves the efficiency of solar panels by 10%, without using GPS and active repositioning panels to track the sun.
- Mimicking the fluid dynamics principles utilized by schools of fish could help to optimize the arrangement of individual wind turbines in wind farms.
- The nanoscale anti-reflection structures found on certain butterfly wings has led to a model to effectively harness solar energy.
- Inspired by the sunlight-to-energy conversion in plants, researchers are utilizing a protein in spinach to create a sort of photovoltaic cell that generates hydrogen from water (i.e. hydrogen fuel cell).
- Utilizing a property of genetically-engineered viruses, specifically their ability to recognize and bind to certain materials (carbon nanotubes in this case), researchers have developed virus-based “scaffolds” that could enable assembly of high-power lithium-ion batteries.
- Mimicking the sharp, jagged scales found on fireflies by implementing radiance-amplifying geometry has been shown to increase LED brightness by 55%.
- The distributed social structure of ants and bees, specifically for communication and activity scheduling, is influencing the complex and adaptive control systems required for smart grids.
- Neural networks found in the human brain are inspiring intelligent control systems for future electrical grid designs.