Biomimetic file 140: Erosion free surfaces inspired from scorpion shell and its implication for the solar industry

How theoretical projections can differ drastically from actual business deployments

dsc03610Image source: scorpion forum. “As Built*“: A revised set of drawing submitted by a contractor upon completion of a project or a particular job. They reflect all changes made in the specifications and working drawings during the construction process, and show the exact dimensions, geometry, and location of all elements of the work completed under the contract.

Highlight: “Taking inspiration from the yellow fattail scorpion, which uses a bionic shield to protect itself against scratches from desert sandstorms, scientists have developed a new way to protect the moving parts of machinery from wear and tear…”

Insight: There are many implications for such technology; a good application would be solar PV systems in desert environments. It is a fact that if even a fraction of the world’s main deserts (e.g. the Sahara) were to be covered with solar PV systems, this would actually generate enough energy to power the entire planet.

However, in addition to the scale of such project, one of the main and apparently unforeseen challenges would be panels surface erosion from sand storms. Anyone who has experienced a sand storm in these harsh environments would know that exposed surfaces quickly become polished which would greatly and quickly alter the efficiency of the panels. Coating PV systems with a protective scratch-proof layer inspired from similar principles could be the solution and there are no better candidates to study and gain inspiration from than the species who actually live in these environments..

There is an interesting business philosophy to be made in this case study: often an idea originating on the paper seems flawless but when it comes to actually deploying the concept in real life sometimes (actually quite often) unexpected surprises arise which can significantly setback or even fail a project. In the built environment sector engineers tend to differentiate cautiously blueprint concept drawings with the actual “as built*” outcome…

For instance lets image the following scenario: A newly set attraction park in the Middle-East desires to upgrade their facilities with the construction of a costly cable-car installation. The company that obtains the large contract is based in Switzerland and has a long flawless track record of manufacturing, building and installing such very specialized infrastructures. Very confident of their decision to have chosen one of the most experienced company in the field the project investors go ahead without any issues or delays until the pre-launch test phase starts. At this stage a rather troublesome discovery is made: the cars attachment device do not fit on the cable within the very stringent safety limits because the temperature at mid-day in this location (sometimes exceeding 50 deg C) expends the holding metal section beyond expectations! It would actually have been easy to anticipate and calculate precisely this thermal expansion taking into account the temperature profile of the region…what has happened is simple: because the product is usually intended for ski resorts in alpine environments, no one in this company anticipated this seemingly minor issue. As a mater of fact fixing the problem turns out to be not as easy as it requires the manufacturer to now customize the production according to this new outcome which has significantly raised the cost and delayed the project delivery….

Are you planning to start deployment of a project that involves built infrastructures or systems beyond your norms? If so, perhaps ensure to review the specifications in alignment with the local specific environmental conditions and make initial adjustments if necessary…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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