Hope in Action — Learning from Nature to Solve Big Problems
Originally published by the Biomimicry Institute
The new, 4,000-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report paints a stark picture about humanity’s impact on the environment. Quartz did a great job summarizing the report to the following: “global warming is happening, it’s caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, and the impacts are very bad (in some cases, catastrophic).”
Planet Earth and the plants and animals that have existed here for billions of years have been through numerous periods of changing climate, but there have only been 5 mass extinction events throughout the planet’s history. Humans appear to be causing a 6th such event, which begs the question — how did we get to this point in which human ingenuity is causing planetary-scale problems, rather than benefiting the plants and animals we share our home with?
The world needs solutions to systemic, human caused-problems. Fortunately, nature (humans included!) has evolved and adapted strategies to many, if not all, of these problems. Let’s take color, for example. Colors of all sorts are found throughout the plant and animal kingdom, and unlike our modern methods of creating pigments and dyes from metal or petroleum bases, these colors are made from life-friendly materials.
Over the past few hundred years, humans have been erecting coastal infrastructure to protect cities and marinas. But, the best protection of all comes from vibrant and protected marine life, such as healthy oyster or coral reefs.
And what about our fashion industry, which is so reliant on synthetic textiles, derived from oil and that breakdown into microplastics? How might we learn from nature’s master weavers, spiders, and strong plant fibers like those found in hemp?
This is the power of learning from nature. Systemic, nature-inspired solutions exist to lessen, and ultimately reverse humanity’s negative impact on the planet, regenerating ecosystems and revitalizing human systems. We hope these case studies illuminate some of these human-caused problems, and show that if we turn to nature for solutions we may just come up with better performing alternatives.
Harnessing Nature’s Molecular Water Filter
Learn how the team at Aquammodate was inspired by tiny microalgae called diatoms, and water-transporting aquaporins to create a biomimetic method for water purification. This energy-efficient and highly selective technology can be applied to existing water filtration systems to produce high-purity grade water in a single filter pass, and desalination at any scale. It also removes harmful substances such as pharmaceutical residues, pathogens, and microplastics from our water, all while using less energy and emitting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
To learn more about Aquammodate and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Training Fungi to Turn Waste into Green Building Materials
The team at Biohm has mimicked nature’s nutrient cycles to address climate change and resource depletion and waste all at the same time, helping us cut fewer trees, emit less CO2, send less to the landfill, and perhaps one day eliminate the concept of waste altogether. Learn how Biohm used biomimicry to emulate nature’s closed loop system and trained fungi, nature’s master “recyclers,” to help decompose all of the “waste”. Biohm is a bio-based building materials company that makes insulation from mycelium (the “root” structure of mushrooms). Their building materials are more affordable and outperform current products on the market. By embracing circular design and the systemic nutrient cycling found in nature, Biohm is leading innovation in the construction industry to create a more sustainable built environment.
To learn more about Biohm and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Mimicking Oyster Shells to Start New Reefs
After two years of experimenting, drawing and photographing, the inventor of Grow Oyster Reefs came up with a biomimicry-inspired plan to foster reef growth by creating modular systems that emulate the specific natural conditions that oysters need to grow and thrive. In this video, learn how the Grow team has created modules made of calcium carbonate-infused concrete that mimic the chemical composition of the adult oyster shell. By working with nature to restore coastal ecosystems, GROW’s products enable long-lasting habitat restoration.
To learn more about GROW Oyster Reefs and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Beetle Inspires a New Bright White Color
The Cyphochilus beetle has evolved an extraordinary network-like system in their exoskeleton that’s one of the best light scatterers found in nature. Amazed by this phenomenon, the scientists at Impossible Materials used the practice of biomimicry to create safer and more renewable structural pigments that could be used in everything from food coloring and packaging, to automotive paint and paper, to cosmetics and toothpaste. Learn more in this video about how this solution was inspired by one tiny, amazing beetle.
To learn more about Impossible Materials and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Insect-Inspired Mesh Captures Water from Power Plants
Concerned about global water scarcity, the MIT scientists behind Infinite Cooling wondered if they could efficiently capture some of the water power plants emit as water vapor through cooling towers. Learn in this video how the researchers looked to one of the driest parts of the world for biomimicry inspiration: arid southwestern Africa. Using their knowledge of the Namib Desert beetle’s technique, and the way bees use an electrostatic charge to collect pollen, they designed a system that combines an add-on mesh with an ion emitter to capture the vapor plumes from industrial cooling systems. This technology could help dramatically reduce global water usage by creating a circular water supply for some of the world’s largest water consumers.
To learn more about Infinite Cooling and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Sticky Mussels Inspire New Underwater Adhesive
While scuba diving off the California coast, the founding scientist of Mussel Polymers was struck by how well shellfish like mussels and oysters were able to hold on to rocks, even in strong currents. In this video we learn how his team used the principles of biomimicry to create a synthetic material that has similar capabilities to mussel adhesive. This glue might help us restore coral reefs more quickly and at a higher rate of success, so that these magical underwater worlds — that are so critical to the health of our planet — continue to spark wonder, well into the future.
To learn more about Mussel Polymers and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Learning from Plants: Using Light to Produce Chemicals
Inspired by nature’s elegant process of photosynthesis, the team at New Iridium has developed a way to use light instead of heat to power chemical transformations. Learn about how this light-driven chemical technology, otherwise known as a photocatalysis, inspired a way for New Iridium to practice biomimicry in developing a light-absorbing chemical compound to accelerate reactions. This heat-free, metal-free technology reduces the steps in the chemical production process, uses far less energy, and also reduces the creation of waste.
To learn more about New Iridium and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
How Fungi Can Help Clean Up Pollution
The team at Novobiom wanted to develop an environmental remediation process that is natural and more effective, and they found inspiration in healthy, living soil ecosystems. Novobiom is tapping the potential of fungi-based remediation solutions; and in this video, we learn how the team has the potential to revitalize millions of contaminated sites around the world. By working with nature to break down harmful toxins into benign components, and mimicking the way healthy soil is produced and maintained through the practice of biomimicry, they are bringing the treasure beneath our feet back to life.
To learn more about Novobiom and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Tides Inspire an Eco-friendly Way to Clean Hemp Fibers
Renaissance Fiber created a natural and waste-free degumming process that preserves the sustainable nature of hemp fiber. Learn about how the team found inspiration from the natural breakdown occurring in the “blackwater” tidal estuaries of the Southeastern United States and used the practice of biomimicry to reduce the environmental impact of the industry. Rather than using harsh chemicals and lots of energy to remove the gum, Renaissance Fiber created a method that mimics the tides to create a gentler, more energy efficient, and effective degumming. Since the only waste is “blackwater,”just like in those tidal estuaries, it can be returned to the ocean with no harm to the environment.
To learn more about Renaissance Fiber and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Spiders Reveal Solution for Textiles: Turning Liquid Into Thread
Learn how the team at Spintex wanted to mimic spider silk as a textile fiber. By creating a shear-sensitive protein gel and a uniquely biomimetic spinning mechanism, Spintex has developed a process that mimics a spider spinnerets’ ability to create a fiber from a liquid gel, at room temperature, without harsh chemicals. They can create fine and tough, silk-like thread that is produced 1,000 times more energy efficiently than creating plastic fibers. And water is the only by-product.
To learn more about Spintex and their biomimicry innovation, visit:
Videos created by Root House Studio. Narrated by Kenita Hill. With special thanks to and support from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.