Butterfly posturing helps solar panels boost efficiency

By mimicking the v-shaped posture of cabbage white, or small white, butterflies, researchers say they can boost solar panel efficiency.

Squeezing more from less is essential to making renewable energy technologies economically viable. Now, winged insects are chipping in to help engineers green-up the energy sector.

Butterflies harness the energy of the sun to warm up their wing muscles prior to flight. But on cloudy days, cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) tend to take to the air more quickly than their peers. Scientists credit the insect’s short warmup time to its unique v-shaped pose, which concentrates solar energy onto its thorax.

The posture, featuring a 17-degree wing tilt, enables the small white to boost the temperature of its wing muscles by 7.3 degrees Celsius.

When researchers replicated this wing-like structure with the photovoltaic cells inside solar panels, researchers were able to boost power production by as much 50 percent. As scientists detailed in a new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, gains translated to a 17-fold improvement to solar panels’ power-to-weight ratio.

Researchers say the improvement promises to boost solar energy efficiency and make the technology more economical.

“Biomimicry in engineering is not new. However, this truly multidisciplinary research shows pathways to develop low cost solar power that have not been done before,” lead study author Tapas Mallick, a researcher at the University of Exeter, said in a press release.

Maybe the rather dull cabbage white is not just a pest of our cabbages but actually an inspiration to harvesting solar energy!

First published in Scientific Reports volume5, Article number: 12267 (2015)

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Biomimicry Tools to Inspire Designers

Great post regarding Biomimicry


Rainforest epiphyte leaf formation / Reforestation.me Rainforest epiphyte leaf formation / Reforestation.me

“Biomimicry is about learning from nature to inspire design solutions for human problems,” said Gretchen Hooker with the Biomimicry Institute at SXSW Eco in Austin, Texas. To enable the spread of these exciting solutions, Hooker, along with Cas Smith, Terrapin Bright Green, and Marjan Eggermont, Zygote Quarterly (ZQ), gave a tour of some of the best resources available for designers and engineers of all stripes:


Hooker walked us through AskNature.org, a web site with thousands of biomimicry strategies, set up by the Biomimicry Institute. The site organizes biological information by function. “Everything nature does fits into a function. And these functions enable us to connect biology to design.”

AskNature first organizes strategies into broad functions and then zooms down into the specific. For example, a user could click on the broad function group, “Get / Store / Distribute Resources,” and then navigate to…

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How seashells inspired ‘unbreakable’ glass

Researchers at McGill’s department of Mechanical Engineering have developed a new technique that increases the toughness of glass by a factor of 200.Beach seashells

Led by Francois Barthelat and current postdoctoral researcher Mohammad Mirkhalaf, the research was inspired by seashells. Seashells are apparently the “perfect models of nature to mimic, because of their very complex architecture.” Seashells (for example mollusk shells) are composed of mainly brittle ingredients, like chalk, but their inner layer contains mother of pearl, a natural material composed of microscopic patterns known to be extremely strong and tough. The team focused their work on how seashells behave and deform, and specifically studied the internal weak boundaries of this inner layer. Using their understanding of these boundaries, the research team used lasers to engrave jigsaw-like networks of 3D micro-cracks into glass slides, mimicking these weak boundaries.

The technique amplified the toughness of the glass, overcoming its main downfall of being brittle. The micro-cracks served as a control mechanism for stopping other cracks from branching and becoming larger, absorbing energy from the impact in the process. By segmenting the glass material and creating weak interfaces, they were able to guide and localize the damage.

So what would happen if you were to drop this new, tougher glass? It would deform a little and absorb the energy from the impact rather than shattering into little pieces, the glass just bends or dents upon impact. There are height limitations naturally, as the glass would shatter if dropped from great heights however, they are trying to improve this through further research.

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Six Key Steps for Biomimicry & Design

Biomimicry is still unheard of in many walks of life. By looking at these six steps, all of which are already present in other scientific and business development models, will help Biomimicry to deliver more ideas across many new subjects in the future.

The Six Key Steps for Biomimicry & Design:

  1. Belief in approach and impact by looking to nature.
  2. Clarity of purpose to keep you on track, and realign when you falter.
  3. Access to appropriate functional biology, using experts when needed.
  4. Handy provocations that fit your context to keep biomimicry top of mind.
  5. Prototype results early and often, while bringing biology to the process.
  6. Tell your story clearly with surprising evidence to help belief grow.

Adapted from article written by Tim McGee and Kathy Zarsky for EcoInterface

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Using nature’s genius in architecture

How can architects build a new world of sustainable beauty? By learning from nature. At TEDSalon in London, Michael Pawlyn describes three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun.

Michael Pawlyn takes cues from nature to make new, sustainable architectural environments. He established the architecture firm Exploration in 2007 to focus on environmentally sustainable projects that take their inspiration from nature.

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A glass window that mimics spider webs, surely not?

Well actually yes there is and it’s used to prevent bird collisions. Hundreds of millions of birds die every year from collisions with buildings windows, you may have even experienced this at home. Well scientists have identified a solution from studying spider webs of all things.


After spending hours building the perfect web, the last thing a spider needs is for some bird to mistakenly crash through it. The spiders solution was to incorporate UV-reflective silk strands into their webs. By adding these strands into their webs, which are visible to birds but critically not insects, the spider saves their precious webs from being destroyed by an errant bird.

Copyrighted photo provided by Arnold Glas, ORNILUX

A company (Arnold Glass) created ORNILUX, an insulated glass sheeting that uses a similar UV-reflective coating, which is almost transparent to humans and birds to significantly contribute to bird conservation efforts and our own cleaning bills!

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Shark inspired car

In the 1960’s the then head of styling and design at General Motors was Bill Mitchell who, having returned from a fishing trip having landed a mako shark, mounted his prize in his office and set out to build a concept car based on its image. chevy_MakoShark_Concept-manu-01

Although it never made it to production, a model of the retro car is kept in the General Motors Heritage Centre in Michigan. What a shame they didn’t build a production version, for sure it would have been a classic.

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Underwater acoustic modems based on Dolphin communications

Having led the surveying team that positioned many of  the sub-sea structures in Shells Gannet Field (an oil field constructed in the late 1980’s) using highly accurate sonar arrays, you might imagine my enthusiasm for a new invention I came across recently. EvoLogics GmbH (www.evologics.de) develops underwater information and biomimicry_dolphins_Docklands_Tony-300x163communication systems based on bionic concepts, combining cutting edge engineering with the best ideas found in nature. They used Biomimicry to create a series of underwater acoustic modems that provide digital communications capable of self-adapting to the dynamic subsea environment. Based on navigation techniques used by the dolphin, the system not only allows it to sense objects around it, but can transmit information reliably, even during the worst of conditions. 

Image of dolphins by Docklands Tony

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Why Toucans have a high beak-to-body ratio?

The flashy beak of the playfully over-sized toco toucan, according to the thewritingengineer.com, has a unique ability to regulate blood flow as a solar heat collector during cool periods and as a thermal release mechanism to prevent overheating during hot weather. The dark-colored collector panels of a solar water heating system, veined with pipes circulating heat transfer fluid, serve the same purpose. Engineers are now looking to more closely mimic this design from nature to enhance the efficiency of current designs.


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How Termites created air conditioning before we did

Termites discovered how to keep their internal nest temperature in a range of 1 degree Celsius even though external temperatures can change by as much as 39 degrees Celsius. By looking at how the Termite mounds are created, the design team engineers in Zimbabwe (designed by architect Mick Pearce in conjunction with engineers at Arup Associates)Termite mound design created a building which borrowed the technology of the termites’ nest structure. the result was a building which uses only 10% of the energy of a typical building of its size. Without either  air conditioning or heating systems the building maintains a constant temperature, creating savings of ~$3.5 million in energy costs during the first five years. Buildings account for 40% of human energy consumption, so implementing sustainable design into their structure is paramount if we are to win the battle of energy requirements for our ever increasing population.

Original article by Jock Gilchrist at http://livinggreenmag.com/

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