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Biomimicry and Beyond: Nature and technology come together

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Biomimicry is the art and science of studying and modeling the natural world, mimicking designs and processes created by animals and plants and then applying these technical solutions to solve human challenges. Examples include imitating the rotation of a sunflower for solar panel tracking, the invention of Velcro which emulates sticky plant cockleburs, studying birds for airplane design, and observing water whorls and kelp to design a highly-efficient boat propeller.Robot Controlled Tracking Solar Panel

"Nature makes only what she wants, where she wants and when she wants. No waste on the cutting-room floor"  – Janine Benyus

Biomimicry can be applied to individual materials or whole systems, such as a building, a town or an ecodistrict encompassing energy generation, waste flow and transportation arteries. The biologist Janine Benyus’ first book, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature (1997), set the stage for the conversation. The Biomimicry Institute, a non-profit training and research center, was founded to continue the work.

Local Ingenuity

In 2005, Oregon State University researchers created a new environmentally-friendly wood glue as an alternative to formaldehyde-containing wood binders. Their inspiration was noticing how mussels attached to rocks using amino acid-secreting tentacles. The researchers added these amino acids to natural soy flour, the result was non-toxic wood glue, now licensed by a local lumber product company.

Waste TreatmentThe City of Portland Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant employs biomimicry and natural processes to clean wastewater. In one stage of the water filtering process millions of gallons of wastewater sit in 30-acres of aeration tanks filled with microorganisms. These organisms digest the organic solids in the water, producing a sludge (biosolid) that can be used as fertilizer. The process is enhanced by technology, which make the solids break down at a faster rate.

What does the future hold?

MusselsWe can expect to see more of these bio-solutions in the built environment as green building professionals continue to look for leading-edge solutions by incorporating more restorative and regenerative design principles. A step in this direction is a Living Building, which is required to generate energy, harvest water and process waste products on-site. Looking to nature for design assistance can help us make the best use of dwindling resources, receive maximum outputs for minimal effort, create elegant designs, reduce waste and build structures that can be powered with renewable resources.



Save the Date!


World EnvironmentWorld Environment Day

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Regional Office of North America has selected the City of Portland to host this year’s World Environment Day (WED) on June 5, 2013.

WED began in 1972 and has grown to become one of the main vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and encourages political attention and action.

World Environment Day is an annual event that aims to be the biggest and most widely celebrated global day for positive environmental action.

This year’s theme is Reduce Your Foodprint. The Portland Climate Action Now! Food Choices section has expert tips to get you started. Anyone can be part of the celebration by scheduling environmental events in the six weeks between Earth Day on April 22nd and World Environment Day on June 5th. The City’s WED website has more information about local activities and how to post your event.