October 8, 2008

Industry Attempts to Mimic Nature

One hundred new "biomimic" ideas were unveiled on Tuesday by the U.N. Environment Program. 

"A more fascinating horizon is opening up for the green economy," said Achim Steiner, head of the U.N. Environment Program.  The recent "biomimicry" project conducted by UNEP identified 100 new ideas from nature.

The project showed that businesses are borrowing from nature for products ranging from sun creams derived from studying the edelweiss flower, to dirt-resistant surfaces inspired by the lotus plant.

"Life in 3.8 billion years has created an enormous number of blueprints, designs, chemical recipes and technologies," said Janine Benyus of the Biomimicry Guild, the group that compiled the report.

"Conserving habitats is a wellspring for the next industrial revolution," she said.

Researchers are looking into copying chemicals from the white edelweiss flower - which has woolly hairs to protect itself from the powerful ultraviolet light in the Alps - to create better sun creams, and to protect plastics from ultraviolet degradation.

The Canadian group CO2 Solution has won patents based on the pearl oyster's ability to convert carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate. They have developed a new way to produce cement by studying the shell's process.

According to findings, the "biomimicry" industry could be worth billions of dollars in the near future.

Benyus said many corporations including Boeing, Nike, General Electric, General Mills, and Procter & Gamble have been trying to hire biologists to develop their own "biomimicry" products.

According to the report, researchers have discovered multiple ways in which organisms gather water, energy, or create glues.

Steiner believes the global financial crisis could fuel innovation.  "In terms of financial crisis, that's when you see innovation emerge," he said.

The idea of "biomimicry" has been used for thousands of years, but experts say it has been under-exploited in many areas.

Many products such as roof tiles, Velcro, and airplanes have been developed by trying to mimic nature.


Image Caption: White edelweiss flower. Courtesy Michael Schmid - Wikipedia


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