Among all of the innovative ideas for renewable energy solutions that have debuted in recent months, a clear trend has emerged: biomimicry. Scientists and engineers have taken cues from nature, creating everything from solar panels inspired by butterfly wings to wind turbines based on the shape of whale flippers.
The idea is that over millions of years, nature has developed patterns and strategies that are well adapted to life on Earth, providing a guide for the creation of sustainable technology that works in harmony with nature. This makes technology more efficient and less likely to have a negative effect on the surrounding ecosystem.
When researchers decided to study the vortices that form in the wake of marine mammals, they had a breakthrough that helped them create wind turbine blades that generate more lift than any previous design.
"Engineers have previously tried to ensure steady flow patterns on rigid and simple lifting surfaces, such as wings," explains Frank Fish of West Chester University, who worked on the project. "The lesson from biomimicry is that unsteady flow and complex shapes can increase lift, reduce drag and delay 'stall', a dramatic and abrupt loss of lift, beyond what existing engineered systems can accomplish."
Biomimicry is already seen in simple everyday items like Velcro, self-healing plastic and friction-reducing swimsuits based on sharkskin, and it fits perfectly into the research and development process of renewable energy tech.
Some notable recent projects that have employed biomimicry include the bioWAVE hydropower system inspired by the movements of life on the sea floor, solar panels inspired by moth eyes and SolarBotanic's energy-harvesting artificial trees.