Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Nature-inspired sustainable design and innovation.

The natural world exists sustainably, with all the plants, animals, landscape, and other features and products on the planet working in unison. However, as we all know, the human race is currently existing quite differently. 

In our quest to become more sustainable, some companies are finding that using Biomimicry (the design and production of materials, structures, and systems modelled on biological entities and processes) assists in this endeavour.

Nature has millions of years of R&D for problems encountered, and we are now gathering inspiration from this technology to apply to our humanitarian requirements.
Below are three companies that are using Biomimicry to create stronger

  1. spun fibres
  2. engineering joints
  3. underwater adhesives


Spintex Engineering, based in Oxford, UK, was established in 2018. Since then, they have been pushing the boundaries of their bioinspired spinning and silk materials.
They have captured the secret of the spider's web to reproduce this unique fibre spinning artificially. 

They spin fibres from a liquid protein gel to create more sustainable fibres than plastic alternatives because...

  • No harsh chemicals are used in production.
  • Only bi-product is water.
  • Fibres are biodegradable.
  • Room temperature processes are used = 1000x less energy required than with plastic fibres.

Not only sustainable, but the fibres are also high-performance, with the strength and toughness for rigorous applications whilst remaining lightweight.

Winner of the Ray of Hope prize, as announced today!
Out of 301 applications, spanning 49 countries, Spintex was one of the ten companies selected to run for the $100,000 Ray of Hope prize, presented by the Biomimicry Institute.

 


University of California, Irvine (UCI), USA, are using the Diabolical ironclad beetle as inspiration to develop new ways to fuse aircraft segments together without the use of traditional rivets and fasteners. These beetle-inspired structures are both more robust and tougher than current engineering fasteners.

In 2020, UCI led studies on the components and architectures responsible for making the diabolical ironclad beetle so indestructible.
They uncovered why the beetle is so tough and demonstrated how engineers could benefit from these designs.

The beetle has one of the toughest known exoskeletons of the animal kingdom. The majority of its strength is contributed to the forewing blades (Elytra) that open and close to protect the flight wings. The ironclad's elytra have evolved to become a solid, protective shield. So strong it can survive being driven over by a car!

The team investigated the geometry of the medial suture joining the two parts of the elytra together and found that it looks very much like interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

courtesy Jesus Rivera / UCI

 

When compression is applied to the medial suture, rather than breaking at the thinnest part of these interlocks, the microstructure within the elytra blades fractures into layers.

"When you break a puzzle piece, you expect it to separate at the neck, the thinnest part. But we don't see that sort of catastrophic split with this species of beetle. Instead, it delaminates, providing for a more graceful failure of the structure." David Kisailus, UCI professor of materials science & engineering

Kisailus said he sees great promise in the ironclad beetle's exoskeleton and other biological systems for new substances to benefit humanity. His lab has been making advanced, fibre-reinforced composite materials based on these characteristics, and he envisions the development of novel ways to fuse aircraft segments together without the use of traditional rivets and fasteners, which each represent a stress point in the structure.

The project – which received support from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Army Research Office, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology's Institute of Global Innovation Research – also included researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

 

Launched in 2019, Mussel Polymers Inc (MPI) have copied the function of Mussel's glue to develop an effective adhesive solution for the most challenging applications.

Within their labs in Bethlehem PA, USA, they develop, test, and produce this innovative adhesive and with a technology access agreement with Lehigh University, they have a full range of analytics and testing capabilities.

Their mission is to develop and bring to market superior cost-effective, environmentally sound adhesives for challenging problems. 

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Jon Wilker, Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University with the backing of the Office of Naval Research, figured out a way to copy the function of the mussel glue in a simpler highly effective molecule.
Following this research they developed Poly Catechol Styrene (PCS), a polymer that mimics the adhesive used by mussels to adhere to underwater substrates.

   PCS is

  • Nontoxic
  • Able to bind underwater
  • Environmentally friendly
  • 300% stronger than other commercial underwater adhesives
  • able to attach to a wide range of materials including (but not limited to) : wood, steel, aluminium, styrene, acrylic, urethane, epoxy, polyester, TPU, and TPO.

Mussel Polymers Inc's adhesives can be used in coral restoration to ship repair, from medical to military applications. Each adhesive is formulated specifically to the end users requirements.

 
 

Further reading:

For further information on Biomimicry please visit The Biomimicry Institute - Examples of nature-inspired sustainable design

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