When it comes to solving problems in the architecture and engineering worlds, more and more designers are looking to Mother Nature for inspiration.
While many of the insights have revolved around natural forms, some go as far as looking to the insect world, relying on biomimicry to see how nature deals with some major concerns when it comes to conserving energy.
In a recent piece on green-buildings.com, Cornell University LEED green associate Claire Moloney noted that termites, fireflies and butterflies can all offer insights into sustainability.
“Thanks to evolution and survival of the fittest, nature is extremely efficient – organisms (possibly with the exception of humans) use minimal energy to perform functions essential to their livelihood,” she wrote. “Researchers are studying these strategies and copying them to produce more effective, energy efficient technologies for powering, heating, and cooling our buildings.”
Moloney noted that termites served as inspiration for an office building and shopping complex in Zimbabwe.
The Eastgate Center looked to termite mounds, which maintain a constant temperature of 87 degrees Fahrenheit through the continual opening and closing of vents. This helps to increase air circulation, drawing fresh air into the bottom of the mound and releasing used air out the top.
By using a similar strategy, the Eastgate Center has managed to drastically reduce its heating and cooling requirements to the point where consumes only 10 per cent as much energy as similar-sized buildings.
Scientists in Belgium, France and Canada have teamed up, meanwhile, to make advances to LED lighting by mimicking fireflies.
Rather than creating LEDs with smooth exteriors, the scientists took cues from fireflies’ abdomens, which feature a series of jagged scales. That scaled pattern actually amplifies the light emitted.
As outlined in a recent article in Science Daily, by adding a scaly layer to LED lights, the scientists were able to replicate the effects of fireflies’ abdomens, helping to boost the efficiency of LEDs by an impressive 55 per cent.
While the advancement in technology is impressive, it remains to be seen whether the implementation of a scaly layer to the exterior of LED lights is commercially viable.
Butterfly wings, meanwhile, have provided the inspiration for improved solar photovoltaic cells.
University of Pennsylvania professor Shu Yang was able to mimic the wings, focusing on their water-resistant and iridescent traits, to help boost the efficiency of the solar panels. By creating a coating that keeps the panels cleaner and repels water, they will naturally be able to absorb more energy from the sun.
As design and technology look to the future, there is something to be said for looking at what has been proven to work. By focusing on nature, scientists are able to come up with concepts that will serve designers well in the years to come.
Published on 13 January 2013