Biomimicry – Learning from Nature

Nature has much to teach us about efficient use of energy. Take the bar tailed godwit, for example, which manages to fly, during his migration from Alaska to New Zealand, 10,000 km non-stop, in 10 days with a weight of 1kg. Engineers in various industries are turning to nature for inspiration as they try to design products with better performance and lower energy consumption.

In three short examples we show how paying more attention nature can save money in aviation, housing and shipping.

Aviation

For examples of what business can learn from nature, look no further than the aviation industry. For instance, the use of winglets modeled by the wings of steppe eagles contributes to the design of low-emission, high-performance aircrafts.

The wing tips of steppe eagles are an ideal shape to maximize lift with a minimal wingspan. The curvature at the end of the wing reduces drag. Engineers designing the A380 copied that design, resulting in fuel savings of up to 3%, depending on if it is a long or short distance flight.

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Shipping

Ship manufacturers look into adapting characteristics of shark skin to reduce friction and make ships more durable.

Sharks are masters of moving smoothly through water, thanks to the structure of their skin. The skin is designed in such a way that friction is reduced significantly. Ship manufacturers nowadays are taking great interest in derma denticles, the key behind the smooth movements. Shark skin consists of individual little ribbed scales, with ribbed longitudal grooves, which allow water to move more efficiently over the surface. This can lead to a reduction of friction of approx. 5% for a large containership. Furthermore the skin prevents fouling due to accelerated water flow and reduced contact time and the reduced available surface to adhere to. These characteristics can reduce fouling of a boat by 67% compared to a conventional surface.

Read more at: http://www.fraunhofer.de/en/press/research-news/2010/05/innovative-paint-system.html

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Housing

Air conditioning is one of the highest cost factors in facility management. Imitating termite architecture can help building companies to reduce energy usage by up to 90%.

Termites usually live in very hot geographical areas and they are required to build self-cooling mounds, since they do not have access to electricity. These mounds keep the temperature at around 31°C whilst outside the temperature varies between 3°C and 41°C. Essentially the temperature is kept by opening ventilation channels and allowing warm air being replaced with cold air. Through the natural upward drag of hot air, cool air is pulled in.

The Eastgate building in Harare (Zimbabwe) imitates the termite architecture and the air exchange system. Additionally, heat absorbing fabrics within the building support the stabilisation of the temperature. All in all, the Eastgate building only uses 10 % of the energy of conventional buildings of the same size.

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About Michael Lierow

Michael Lierow is a partner at Oliver Wyman for sustainability & resource productivity and transportation, based in Munich. He has 14 years of consulting experience with a special focus on efficiency programs and network optimization of CEP, LTL/FTL and supply chain companies. Michael supports clients to unlock growth through clean-tech and sustainability solutions by combining economic growth and environmental awareness, especially in the areas of energy, infrastructure, mobility, transportation and waste. He has developed numerous concepts and co-authored articles on efficiency in logistics and sustainability next to frequently speaking at international conferences such as at the World Climate Summit in Cancun/Mexico and the Sustainable Supply Chains and Shipping at Basel Finance.

Michael studied Business and Economics at the Otto-Beisheim Graduate School of Management (WHU) in Germany, France and Australia. He holds a PhD and a MBA and is fluent in German, English, Spanish and French.