Biomimicry: Learning from Nature – Lessons from Plants

Posted by on September 2, 2013

Biomimicry is the practice of learning from and emulating nature’s genius.  And when it comes to genius, the plant kingdom has more than its fair share of examples.  From their amazing processes, to their remarkable resourcefulness, complex relationships, and incredible ingenuity of form, both molecular and macroscopic, there is so much we can learn from plants… in addition to the simple joy their beauty brings us!!

biomimicry 11Last time we learnt about how the lotus leaf has inspired the development of water-repellant paint.  This time I’d like to take a look at how the Calyx lily (Arum lily) inspired a whole new generation of fans, pumps and impellers.

Any manufacturer of fans and pumps will tell you that the biggest challenges they face are the noise and energy-intensive factors.  And yet, fans, pumps and impellers have only really changed incrementally over the past 150 years.  And then along came PAX Scientific offering a transformational leap in design.

Having been inspired by the concept of biomimicry, PAX Scientific asked themselves “what could they learn from nature regarding flow…of air and water?”. And they discovered the simple fact that there is no such thing as a straight line in nature. All gases and liquids move in a spiral formation because that’s the path of least resistance. There’s virtually no drag. Furthermore, this exponentially increasing spiral formation is a pattern that is repeated in nature countless times – it’s in the shape of the Calyx lily,  a snail’s shell, the way a chameleon curls up its tail. Acknowledging the fact that nature has had some 3.8 billion years to perfect its designs, the PAX engineers decided to apply this same logarithmic spiral shape to their rotary devices.  And they came up with the PAX fan which resulted in up to 75% reduction in noise levels and 15% to 30% savings on energy over conventional rotors.

And then they looked more closely at how water flows naturally, and discovered the power of the vortex and vortical fluid dynamics.  They used this knowledge to design their impeller which essentially generates flow by creating a natural whirlpool effect.

PAX Fan inspired by Calyx lily (Arum lily)

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The PAX Water Mixer is a tiny little device – not more than 6 inches high – and can circulate hundreds of millions of gallons of water for the same amount of energy it takes to light up a light bulb.  Take a look at the 3 images below… you can just imagine the material and energy savings achieved considering the size of the new rotary device in the centre (sufficient to circulate all the water in that tank) versus that of its nearest competitor in the image on the left. And, because the water isn’t stagnating, utilities are using 85 percent less disinfecting chemicals, and they’re mixing the water with 80 percent less energy than they would otherwise need.”

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PAX Water Mixer

Again, these are 2 examples of how, with humility, an open mind and a dash of lateral thinking, incredible efficiency gains are being made in the design, engineering and manufacturing fields, by learning from and emulating nature’s models, geometry and processes.

 Hopefully this will inspire you to look more closely at those magnificent plants, flowers, trees and shrubs out there – and ask yourself, “what could we learn from the design feature of this plant?”  It is estimated that there are 30 to 100 million other species that we share this planet with – each with their own particular strategy and design for surviving – imagine the secrets just waiting to be revealed?

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 Article by Sue Swain of Bio Wise

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