Biomimicry OR Biologically Inspired Design

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According to the Biomimicry Guild, "Biomimicry is an innovation method that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies—for example, a solar cell inspired by a leaf. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on Earth over the long haul. Biomimicry follows life's principles, such as build from the bottom up, self-assembly, optimize rather than maximize, use free energy, cross-pollinate, embrace diversity, adapt and evolve, use life-friendly materials and processes, engage in symbiotic relationships, and enhance the biosphere. By following these principles you can create products and processes that are well-adapted to life on Earth."

Bert Bras, a professor of engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, prefers to call biomimicry "biologically inspired design." "Biomimicry implies copying and simply copying is not necessarily the best or smartest way to do things," he says. "Inspiration allows the engineer to take the best from nature and put it in a new (engineering) context."

His research takes a holistic view in identifying fundamental principles that occur across multiple biological systems and that can provide new insight in how to do sustainable design and manufacturing. "For example, people have heard about the Lotus effect that has led to self-cleaning surfaces in some products," he says. "This principle of using a hydrophobic material with nano/micro bumps is not limited, however, to Lotus leaves but also occurs in butterflies, whales, etc. It is actually an anti-fouling principle that makes sure parasites and dirt do not adhere to an organism. It occurs in many species."

Bras is studying how ecological principles from ecosystems can help design better manufacturing networks. "Some ecologists, for example, use a metric called cyclicity to see how well-connected an ecosystem is," he states. "The higher the cyclicity value, the better. We studied industrial networks, including industrial ecosystems, and found that their cyclicity is much lower than in natural ecosystems. We also observed a correlation between cyclicity and thermodynamic efficiency in Brayton and Rankine thermodynamic cycles."

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