In the Spanish region of Andalucía there are several concentrated solar plants that, from the air, look amazingly like the floral heads of sunflowers. This is no artistic or random arrangement, but a highly practical one. The hundreds of heliostats, or mirrors, rotate with the sun to reflect concentrated sunlight towards a central tower, where water is heated to steam, which drives a turbine that produces electricity. However, having this many heliostats takes up a lot of space unless they are optimally arranged.

 

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By placing the heliostats closer together in a fanned-out layout, they were able to build a spiral-like pattern that reduced the land used by 10 percent without affecting efficiency.

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At that point, researchers decided to look to nature to see if they could further optimize the pattern. They used the florets of a sunflower as a source of inspiration as these are arranged in a stunning spiral fashion; each floret is turned at a “golden angle” of about 137 degrees with respect to its neighbour. When the researchers twisted each mirror to be 137 degrees relative to its neighbour, their tests showed that the optimized layout took up 20 percent less space than the current layout. The improved layout takes up 20 per cent less land and is more efficient than the current design. Read more

“How can you not be excited by the prospect of finding solutions for sustainability just outside your door? This is yet another reason for protecting ecosystems and biodiversity,” says UN Environment ecosystems specialist Niklas Hagelberg.

Biomimicry

According to the Biomimicry Institute[i], biomimicry is an innovative approach that taps into nature’s time-tested designs and processes to solve the problems humans face. Over billions of years, living organisms on Earth have learned to adapt and survive, just as we need to today. By applying lessons from these life forms, we can create solutions that fit in seamlessly to the ecosystems that surround us, making our products, processes, buildings, and even entire cities more energy and material-efficient, less toxic, and more resilient.

Biomimicry goes beyond simply creating devices that look like something in nature (biomorphism) or using natural materials (bio-utilization) in designs. Instead, biomimicry look to emulate how living organisms function within an entire systems context.

Solutions are all around us

Biomimicry is still an emerging practice, but it has the potential to fundamentally reshape the way we build our world by offering a new way to create a resilient future.

SOURCE: UNEP UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME

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