As population growth increases and the pressures on our water supply increase, scientists are required to develop innovative and new ways to secure our nation’s precious natural resource. A new research discipline shows that the key to a viable survival strategy could be within nature.
BIOMIMICRY: Let nature build a better tommorow
Man has been studying the natural world for centuries. We first tried to control nature and hold it using our machines and structures. In many ways, we attempt to defend it from the same systems. However, our problems remain: billions of people worldwide are denied access to clean drinking water, while pollution threatens the water supplies of those with access.
The year 1997 was when US bioscientist Janine Benyus introduced the world to the concept of biomimicry. Since then, this new field has grown exponentially and leaps. Biomimicry can be described as the art of studying and replicating natural processes, forms, and ecosystems to overcome human design problems and develop environmentally sustainable designs.
Biomimicry reorients the world and asks us to think about what we can learn from nature and how we use that knowledge to incorporate it into our unique designs to imitate the creativity we see in nature.
There are three kinds of biomimicry: copying shape and form while another mimics an action, such as photosynthesis in a leaf. For example, the third mimics the level of ecosystems, like the construction of an urban environment inspired by nature.
The premise of nature is that imagining through necessity has solved a lot of the issues we’re currently battling. Microbes, plants, and animals are the ultimate scientists, engineers, physicists, and engineers. They have discovered what works, what’s appropriate, and, most importantly, the things that last on Earth.
Through looking at the examples of nature, we can create new and innovative solutions to engineering, design, and other problems we confront: in food production, energy, transportation, climate control, water supply, and much more. The goal for the Biomimicry Movement is the creation of organizations, products, processes, and policies that are new ways of living that are well-adapted to the earth’s environment in the long run. A key aspect to note about biomimicry is that it utilizes the principles of organisms, not microorganisms.
BIOMIMICRY’S POWER TO IMPROVE WATER
Recognizing the potentiality of this new science for waters as a whole, the Water Research Commission (WRC) began a five-year program to show the methodology of biomimicry in the South African setting. The project, led in partnership with Golder Associates Africa, together with the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the University of the Witwatersrand and biomimicrySA, is expected to be completed by the end of next year.
We have always been thinking linearly when trying to solve our water-related problems. Consider the typical wastewater treatment chain where wastewater flows via concrete structure, it is processed, and then it flows out, as explained by WRC Research Manager Dr. Valerie Naidoo. “The biomimicry method requires us to think more three-dimensionally. Instead of fighting nature, we now look to it for ideas and using nature’s inherent principles to find solutions to our problems.”
Being the first time that the WRC has ventured into this area; the research is solely focused on biomimicry and wetlands design. Researchers seek natural resources for new ways to improve wetlands’ functioning and restore existing wetlands. “Wetlands are natural filters that remove pollutants from the water that flows through them. The economic benefit from this filtering process is huge, which reduces the price associated with downstream (potentially high energy) treatment systems as well as water purification” Dr. Naidoo. If it is successful, the method can be applied to other systems and processes when it is appropriate.
The research aims to harness the wisdom of nature cleanses water to engineer-designed wetlands that can meet the demands of current as well as emerging pathogens, pollutants, and pollutants. The project’s core team includes scientists and engineers with experience in various fields. Through the course of the project, experts have been invited to participate in seminars and workshops to integrate their knowledge and present a new method of designing constructed wetlands to treat water.
“This project is exciting because it’s not a simple method to implement. Researchers are being asked to abandon thinking of innovation through a conventional manner and to enter the multidisciplinary, creative environment,” says Dr. Naidoo. “This project is only the start of what we hope will be a new wave of creativity to enter the South African water space.”
So far, the team has experienced mixed reactions from friends; some scientists aren’t keen on changing their usual approach to thinking, while others are considering the possibilities of biomimicry. Perhaps the actual value of biomimicry won’t solve problems of the water sector but aid in economic development and the knowledge economy by creating new methods and products for the market.