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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:

Energy Efficiency

  • Termite mounds inspired regulated airflow for temperature control of large structures, preventing wasteful air conditioning and saving 10% energy.[1] 
  • Whale fins shapes informed the design of new-age wind turbine blades, with bumps/tubercles reducing drag by 30% and boosting power by 20%.[2][3][4]
  • 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.[5][6]
  • 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.[7][8][9][10]

Energy Generation

  • 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.[11][12][13]
  • Mimicking the fluid dynamics principles utilized by schools of fish could help to optimize the arrangement of individual wind turbines in wind farms.[14]
  • The nanoscale anti-reflection structures found on certain butterfly wings has led to a model to effectively harness solar energy.[15][16][17]

Energy Storage

  • 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).[18][19]
  • 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.[20][21]

Energy Delivery

  • Mimicking the sharp, jagged scales found on fireflies by implementing radiance-amplifying geometry has been shown to increase LED brightness by 55%.[22][23]
  • 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.[24][25]
  • Neural networks found in the human brain are inspiring intelligent control systems for future electrical grid designs.[26]

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