Janine Benyus: Naturen som designmanual

11. oktober 2008

Et af de indlæg, jeg gerne havde overværet ved IUCNs World Conservation Congress i Barcelona i disse dage, er Janine Benyus’, hvori hun efter sigende skulle introducere sin nye bog “Nature’s 100 Best – Innovation that Inspire Entrepreneurs to Design the New Economy”, som rummer 2.100 designideer fra naturen. Men endnu er der ikke gjort noget tilgængeligt på IUCNs hjemmeside.¹ Til gengæld bragte IUCN sidste år i sit tidsskrift World Consevation et interview med Janine Benyus, som jeg har kopieret ind nedenfor.

Sammen med vugge til vugge-perspektivet repræsenterer biomimicry – sommetider også betegnet som bionics eller biomimetics – et forståelsesmæssigt nybrud, som er uomgængeligt nødvendigt for at få genindlejret menneskesamfundet i biosfærens energi- og stofkredsløb og gøre vores forbrug og levevis bæredygtigt.

Nature’s recipes

Learning from nature, not just about nature, could provide the solutions for many of our energy problems, says Janine Benyus.

Organisms have done everything we humans want to do but without guzzling fossil fuels, polluting the planet, or mortgaging their future”, says Janine Benyus, a pioneer of biomimicry – a rapidly-growing field of research and development. Biomimicry studies nature’s best ideas and imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems. Some believe it could help solve global energy problems, reduce waste and promote sustainability.

In learning from nature, instead of just about nature, humans can live sustainably on this planet, says Janine. She explains that biomimicry is starting to make a significant impact in fields such as medicine, defence and building construction, and has enormous potential in the quest for sustainable energy.

There are already numerous examples of proven energy technology inspired by nature: solar cells that mimic leaves and the process of photosynthesis; wave energy harvesters inspired by kelp and tuna; batteries in the works that emulate the electric eel’s capacity to deliver 600 volts instantly; and wind turbine optimization inspired by the fin scallops of the humpback whale.

Since buildings create about 48% of global carbon dioxide emissions, a major focus is now on designing more energy-efficient buildings. One leading example is the Eastgate Building, a shopping and business centre in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. It has no air conditioning or heating, only ventilation channels modelled on termite mounds. Termites maintain the temperature inside their nest at 31°C, day and night, while the external temperature varies between 3°C and 42°C. The Eastgate building uses 90% less energy than a conventional building of its size.

A British university is digitally scanning termite mounds to map their three dimensional architecture in microscopic detail. A computer model will help understand how the termites’ tunnels and air conduits exchange gases, maintain temperature and regulate humidity. This research may in the future influence the design of self-regulating buildings.

“We are witnessing a change in our relationship with the natural world, to one in which we are now the students and the organism is the teacher. Before, if a species was useful to us we would harvest it or domesticate it. Now we are using nature as an inspiration for innovation,” says Janine. Emulation of natural processes is changing the way we design our own technologies and systems. Ecosystems can be seen as ‘sustainable economies’ in the way they deal with critical functions such as energy generation and waste treatment.

Engineers at Mercedes-Benz and DaimlerChrysler Research teamed up to produce the first bionic concept car that is 40% lighter than comparable cars, does more than 70 miles per gallon, reduces some pollutants by 80% and can seat four people. Their inspiration was the box fish, which despite its cube shape, is extremely streamlined and stable. Biologists helped the engineers emulate the fish’s anatomical structure to design the car’s light but strong body.

Plant biologists and engineers are looking to leaves to help make smaller and more ubiquitous solar cells. A leaf has tens of thousands of tiny photosynthetic reaction centres that operate at 93% quantum efficiency, capturing energy silently with water, sunlight, and no toxic chemicals. Mimics of these molecular-scale solar batteries could one day be used to split water into cleanburning hydrogen and oxygen. Many companies have commercialized dye-sensitized solar cells that mimic photosynthesis to maximize light harvesting at low light levels and reduce the cost of converting sunlight to electricity.

Researchers are developing ways of obtaining water without the use of energyintensive pumps. Their work is modeled on a beetle found in the Namibian desert that can harvest water from fog. Water aerators and computer fans that mirror the shape of spirals found in nature, including seashells have also been developed. In some cases, designs modelled on natural shapes can use up to 80% less energy, while reducing noise by 75%.

The main barrier to progress in biomimicry, says Janine, is the lack of a bridge between scientists and the people who need their information, mainly industry innovators. “What’s needed is far greater interaction between biologists and engineers. Sadly, few people get to work in the fertile estuary between those two intellectual habitats.”

“I don’t think there is a lack of research but I think there is a lack of access to it – biological knowledge needs to be made available in a form that, for example, an engineer can use.” Janine believes it essential that engineering students take a biology course and conversely, biologists need to better understand design challenges. Biologists could also do a better job of describing and promoting the outstanding characteristics of species, and sharing their knowledge, she adds.

Janine would also like to see greater investment in, and incentives for biomimicry research, particularly in the proven technologies. “We need to remove the perverse incentives for fossil fuels and channel the money to sustainable technology.”

Janine’s visions are starting to become a reality. Cross-disciplinary research centres are springing up all over the world that bring together the languages of biology and design. The biomimetic revolution is gathering pace as industry becomes more alert to the potential gains of learning from nature.

Emulating nature is not just about mimicking form but also nature’s processes and ecosystem strategies, says Janine who has a deep commitment to conservation and sustainability. And there’s a powerful conservation message emerging: “We can learn and benefit from the embodied wisdom of nature’s systems and we need to keep them so that we can continue to learn from them.”

This message will translate into benefits for nature, she says. “It’s my belief that if an innovator derives a lesson or an idea from an organism and creates a product based on it, there should be some sort of thanksgiving. Some of the proceeds should go back to preserve the organism’s habitat, a new programme we call Innovation for Conservation. That way, innovation becomes an engine for preserving the source of ideas.”

Janine Benyus is co-founder of the Biomimicry Guild and Institute. She is a biologist and author.

indlæg oprettet af Jens Hvass

Interviewet med Janine Benuys findes i UICNs: “The Nature of Energy” in World Conservation vol. 37 no. 2 juli 2007 pp. 38-39 (pdf).

Har lige checet på amazon.com, hvor det fremgår, at bogen endenu ikke er udkommet. Hvis man prøver at bestille den, bliver det oplyst, at den først udkommer i juni 2009.¹

Blog-indlæggene Janine Benyus: Brainstorming with Belugas og Janine Benyus: 12 sustainable design ideas from nature rummer videoer, hvor Janine benyus fortæller om biomimicry.

For mere om biomimicry, se biomimicry.net, typepad.com, zeri.org, og biomimicryguild.com.

Matt Wella: Using Nature as a Design Guide, BusinessWeek 11.02.2008.

Amory B. Lovins: Heroes of the Environment: Janine Benyus, Time Magazine 2007.