Oakland, CA — Biomimicry, or replicating the way nature solves problems, has already provided solutions like keeping walls clean with less work and moving fluids more efficiently.
It also has the potential to improve ceramics, cars and other objects with materials that copy the strength of clam shells and bones, but such investigations will also need to look at what will happen to those materials at the end of their life, according to University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Professor Paul Calvert.
The university's Sustainability Initiative web site writes:
Like many scientific concepts, there are problems in the way of bringing biomimicry to the forefront of industrialization. One issue is that while substances like metal, glass, and plastic are easy to recycle, complex composite materials are more difficult and require chemical decomposition. "In a way, a dead animal recycles just fine. It decays and goes through molecular breakdown by other species. So we need to see how to recycle this material through answers in biology," said Dr. Calvert.
Calvert's work with biomimicry began with investigating how to replicate the strong structures of sea creature shells in ceramics, and he has also looked into using bone composites to make cars and vehicles. Such materials would be lighter and as tough as steel, but also potentially more difficult to recycle.
Another hurdle, he warns, is the fact that some biomimetic products will not be able to be mass produced.
"If we do the biomimetic thing, we would be making things slowly, one by one. Can we imagine moving from mass production to more localized steps?"
But while those challenges are few, the potential improvements that biomimicry offers are numerous.
Blue mussels attach themselves to rocks with their own adhesive; so, how can we mimic this underwater glue? ... The silk from spider webs has been studied in an effort to create better elastic material. ... Humpback whales have incredible dexterity when they swim due to the design of their flippers, which have bumps for maintaining their control of turns and sharp changes in direction. Studies are being done with this flipper design to determine the aerodynamic advantages, as well better efficiency for wind turbines. Early warning systems for Tsunamis have been developed using dolphins' multi-frequency approach for emitting sound waves over great distances underwater. These examples are only a few of the many studies and capabilities going on in the field of biomimetics.