What is Biomimicry and What is Not?

“I think the biggest innovations of the 21st century will be at the intersection of biology and technology.
A new era is beginning.”

– Steve Jobs


Photo by Geert Slachmuylders  @Gaudí´s Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Recently Turbulent organized 2 biomimicry workshops in Concepción, the second largest city in Chile. In the workshops, our founder Geert explained the basic principles of biomimicry and how to apply them on the challenges in our daily life.

The workshops focused on getting inspiration from nature to solve a predefined problem in design and innovation. We were truly amazed by all the creative ideas and solutions from the local participants. For instance, one group came up with a design based on the natural shape of a cactus for more efficient heat radiators, and another group innovated on one type of economical insulation based on the foamy core of palm trees. It would be great to see these promising biomimicry solutions applied in the real world in near future.

So in this post – part 1, let’s have a closer look at what is biomimicry, the common misconception about it, and the 2 ways of biomimicry thinking.

What is biomimicry?

Biomimicry is easy to understand by breaking it into two parts. “Bio” means “life,” and “mimic” means “to imitate.” You can see it as an innovation approach that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies.

Humans are intelligent. We create machines that make us faster, stronger, safer and help us in our everyday lives. But in many cases we have detached from nature and created massive sustainability problems for our future generations. We have to learn to look around us again and get inspired by nature, the world’s greatest creative director, and an amazing research lab with a track record of 3.8 billion years.

In the new design methodology of biomimicry, we acknowledge the genius of Nature, and we try to use it as inspiration to find solutions to our global problems. With this methodology we try to emulate the time tested patterns and strategies of nature to create products, processes and systems that are adapted to life on earth.

Caveat:  What is not biomimicry?

Sometimes people show examples of biotechnology such as aquaculture systems or waste water cleaning with bacteria. It is important to point out that, this kind of biotechnology is not biomimicry. Instead it is bio-utilization or bio-harvesting, and it is very different from biomimicry. In these technologies the organism is being used to achieve a function rather than being consulted.

Biomimicry is about looking at the organism and how it works, and then trying to distil your own innovation out of it. When you start to look at organisms in this way, you acquire a more profound understanding and acceptance of the being, and will respect its existence even more.

Example of non-biomimicry:

Using Durvillaea Antarctica (Cochayuyo, kelp weed found at the coasts of Chile) for the production of a non-animal based leather. This can be harvested from the sea (bio-utilization), grown naturally in enclosures (bio-assisted), or one can look at the way the seaweed constructs itself.

These kinds of kelp consist of millions of brown algae (single-celled organisms) that work together to create the larger shape of the kelp. One could learn from and utilize this process to grow leather bags from a solution of nutrients.

Cochayuyo – the Chilean seaweed          Photo credit: thisischile


Methods of biomimicry thinking

So how do you think in biomimicry? There are two ways:

–  Design challenge to biology, where you take a human problem and try to find a solution for it in nature;

–  Biology to design challenge, where you take a principle from biology and look for smart applications of it to solve human challenges.

Biomimicry is about looking at the organism and how it works, and then trying to distil your own innovation out of it. When you start to look at organisms in this way, you acquire a more profound understanding and acceptance of the being, and will respect its existence even more.

So now do you have an idea of what is biomimicry and what is not? Feel free to share your thoughts with us below.

In the following post – part 2, we will show you how we applied biomimicry thinking to the development of our turbine. We hope you can be inspired to start your own biomimicry thinking!

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