Biomimetic file 181: Electronics Fungal Processing

How changing the form of a problem can lead the path to business solutions

big_thumb_57cdd9b81573a02e5c5540ac4b26ac9cPicture source: stockfreeimages.com  

Highlight: “The American Chemical Society has revealed how fungi can extract valuable materials from batteries that would otherwise go to waste…The batteries in smartphones and laptops, particularly the cathodes, contain a lot of lithium and cobalt. Methods exist to recycle these elements, but they are currently more expensive than mining new material… Consequently, a lot of old phones end up in landfill, while Earth’s reserves are depleted. Without recycling, cobalt shortages, in particular, could represent a limitation on battery production and the shift to clean energy…Professors at the University of South Florida, have put three species of fungi to work, drawing on the chemicals they release to extract metals at an affordable price…Batteries are too solid for the fungi to get at them without assistance, so the team dismantled the battery and pulverized the cathodes… This is a cheap process compared to the high-temperature activity currently required. Then the fungis’ organic acids go to work…”

Insight:  In this particular battery recycling case using Fungi, in order for the process to effectively work the cathodes have first to be pulverized and turned into powder form. It is the same product which presented into a different form allows the key process to work…

An important lesson can be learn from this process: when faced with seemingly unsolvable situations, sometimes all it takes is to reshuffle the problem and to find a different way to tackle it. Presenting the same problem differently can often reveal a hidden path towards a solution; it is a simple statement with yet fundamental implications in business and personal life.

The art of knowing when to reshuffle is one that is key both in solution solving and in time management. Are you stuck with a problem? If so, perhaps consider looking at it from a different perspective…

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 or natural systems 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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Biomimetic file 141: Evaporation Powered Engines

How small outcomes can be exploited to become large outputs

TOP HUMIDITYImage source: Joe Turner Lin. Evaporation* is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs from the surface of a liquid into a gaseous phase that is not saturated with the evaporating substance. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which is characterized by bubbles of saturated vapor forming in the liquid phase.

Highlight: “researchers have developed the first ever engines driven by evaporation…they created what they’re calling “hygroscopy driven artificial muscles,” or HYDRAs, using bacterial spores that shrink and swell as the humidity changes. Within the spores, water is confined in tiny cavities, and humidity triggers pressure changes. Using HYDRAs, the team created two kinds of devices—a floating, piston-driven engine and a rotary engine—that can help generate electricity from evaporation.”

Insight: Evaporation* is a powerful force omnipresent in our world and it has remained virtually untapped! While evaporation occurs everywhere on Earth it is strongest in hot locations which would be favored deployment sites. Despite the fast rise of certain renewables, especially solar Photo-voltaic, there is a need for an energy mix and this new solution could be a good addition as part of a global de-carbonification process. The element of scale is important in future energy needs; while energy production from evaporation may seem unproductive compared to modern gas fired Powerplants, the potential relies on two fronts with low cost and large scale deployment which in term could provide significant amounts of decentralized energy. The technology behind this latest innovation is a good case study of biomimicry whereby engineering and biological principals are combined to come up with a functioning mechanism. The key to future innovations will require a multidisciplinary approach using natural along with engineered systems..

The above points can be applied to business strategy: while most models are based on a small but high output principle (e.g. local market size but high profit margin), we increasingly live in a flat world (an analogy for the fact that the planet and its systems are becoming more and more interconnected) which makes a new type of business model based on small output but large outcomes feasible…

Lets illustrate the above point with the following tale taking place in a near future, roughly 10 years from now: a small town in the middle of the United States runs 100% on an expensive but efficient coal fired Powerplant on a 20 ha land in the inner suburbs which generates 450MW of power.  Mike, the mayor of the town prouds himself of having created 300 jobs in his plant and another 600 jobs in the nearby coal mine. On the other end 3 miles away another similar sized town with an ecological conscious mayor, John, is trying a different model to take over from their own aging coal fired plant and has decided to power his town 100% on solar photovoltaic energy (The two which are actually friends have  secretly made a bet on which model will come out most successful). The location  happens to be prone to solar energy generation due to its high sun exposure, flat grounds and dry air. John’s town quickly moves-on to re-develop nearly 10 square miles of surrounding desert land with solar panels purchased in bulk at a very favorable price. While the output per panel is relatively small, in the end, the system combined (9 million panels) generates more than 500 MW, enough to power 160,000 homes. The project has created over 4000 jobs, its operational cost is comparatively low and the air quality is now much better not to mention the media sensation interested in this small town initiative. A deal made with a new generation battery manufacturer allows the town to effectively store the energy and operate at night. While 5 years ago the solar farm would have cost 4 times the price of the coal fired plant, with the price of panels having dropped significantly the entire project was about the same price (800m) to build (this is why this projection takes place in a near not so far away future as in today’s market it would cost more to build the solar farm!). Thereafter, every time John and Mike meet up for a beer at the middle road pub, John reminds Mike of the story and asks him “so when are you following my model?” to which he replies “it’s already decided John, you won,  solar is the new coal and I am now convinced!” (that is just me being optimistic)…

The answer to the title of this post is clear: in order to turn small outputs into large outcomes the parameter to play on is the element of scale. Increasingly low cost large scale systems will take over small scale high cost installations…

Are you planning a new development? If so, perhaps explore the two above models, crash in the numbers and come up with your own conclusions, based on the situation, on which model is the most feasible and economical in the long run…

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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www.bluestrike-group.com

Biomimetic file 122: tree-like wind turbines

Why aesthetics can be as important as systems performance

tree-shaped-wind-turbinesphoto credit: NewWind. Aesthetics*  is a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of art, beauty, and taste, with the creation and appreciation of beauty.

Highlight: “One of the biggest criticisms against wind turbines is that they aren’t usually nice to look at, but that may be about to change thanks to the French company NewWind. Their new device, Tree Vent, is an array of vertical wind turbines that look a lot like a tree…”

Insight: The potential to harvest energy from the wind is proven, however the aesthetics of the systems are slowing the deployments of turbines especially in urban environments. Gaining inspiration from nature to design better integrated and more appealing systems is a good start. In this context, the other important element to consider is the potential to harvest wind energy in low wind and variable conditions, which are typically found in cities. While it doesn’t make sense to install large scale turbines in this type of setting, the implementation of many small scale turbines, for instance on rooftops, is actually a viable solution to feed in to local electrical grids. Friction has been a major step-back for low energy turbines; the input of technology such as the use of supra-conductors to levitate moving parts could allow to remove most friction.

In business, product aesthetics* can be very important when it comes to the sales success rates and surprisingly sometimes even more than the actual performance of the product. As a general rule if the product is somehow exposed to the public (some systems are not intended to be exposed, for instance industrial fans…) a strong design element should be incorporated in order to maximize the success sale rate of that product…

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: Two competing companies are in the business of heaters for home and industrial usage in cold climates. Company A and company B are about the same size and offer a very similar range of products. A trendy in-demand product has to do with boilers for home usage that provide hot water for showering but also the hot water system to heat the indoor space. Company A comes up with the most efficient product on the market in terms of energy efficiency that works on diesel. While being extremely efficient, the company does not pay much attention the the aesthetic of the product which ends up looking quite bulky, old fashion, with exposed metal panels covering the heating elements, and manual gauges (the needle type). On the other hand, company B comes up with a not as efficient product but they spend a lot more time and resources on the aesthetic of their product which ends up looking futuristic (curved edged, full digital displays, painted panels, glass elements…). Once the two products hit the market it becomes clear that company B quickly becomes the winner by taking the biggest share of the market. Disappointed that their more efficient product is not doing better sales, company A’s management finds out the hard way that they have failed to appeal to the consumers who in the end prefer slightly less efficient but a better looking system even though it is intended to be installed in their garage! After making this realization on the importance of consumer psychology even in their business line, company A decides to open a new design department which is costly and has a lot to catch up to meet the standards of their competitor; in other words the company has fallen behind because of this late realization…

Are you looking to release a new product that is exposed for people to see? If so, remember that it is important to aim for the highest performance but also to look at ways to work on the design so that it appeals to consumers aesthetic preferences as well no matter what the product is…

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…

bluestrike logo

www.bluestrike-group.com

 

Biomimetic files 119 scientists make DNA wires that carry electric current

How diversifying the use of a process can lead to greater competitiveness

DNA_Computing (1)Photo credit: ynse, “DNA Rendering,” via Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions used in the growth, development, functioning and reproduction of all known living organisms

Highlight: “DNA, the molecule at the heart of life, is the most powerful and sophisticated information storage device in existence. So it’s no wonder that scientists are attempting to harness its capabilities in computing and electronics. Not only does DNA have the capacity to store vast amounts of data, but it also provides the opportunity to surpass current limitations on reducing the size of electronics…Researchers have found a way to use DNA strands as a replacement for electrical wires…”

Insight: since its discovery the applications of DNA for human benefits have been amazing, ranging from genome technology to structural design (e.g elements such as buildings staircases have been inspired from DNA double helix shape). Contrary to common belief the molecule still has much to offer in terms of knowledge and applications.

One of the particularly interesting aspects of DNA is its 4 base coding mechanisms as opposed to current computers binomial (2 base) coding. Research on the next generation of super computers using a 4 base coding is under way and if successful will lead to tremendous increase in computer power and storage capabilities. Going beyond this, it now seems that the structure of DNA itself is also prone to transmitting electrical currents more effectively and able to make electronic circuits a fraction of the size of what is currently available. This latest discovery is a significant step forward in technology as many of the current electronic devices are simply reaching physical capacity: we cannot make them any smaller than they already are.

While DNA is perhaps the most famous of all molecules there are many others that remain to be discovered and studied. However, as species become extinct so is this incredible database of molecules that goes with them along with potential technological breakthroughs.

The above point of taking something known for a specific usage (DNA as information support) and finding a completely different usage (DNA as an electricity conductor) is inspirational when it comes to business philosophy. Indeed, companies are often trapped with preset ideas that certain things or processes must only be used for specific applications. However, a different mindset of re-thinking the use of common applications can actually lead to innovations and significant savings…

Lets illustrate the above statement with the following case study: a diversified IT company is also in the growing business of smart phones. While already at the forefront of technology and design in the field, they have fix themselves a challenge for their new product release. The challenge consist of making the phone even more compact than its previous version while at the same time improving functionalities. The highly experienced engineering team gets to work and after much trials comes up with a great idea: in the previous version, the antenna element of the phone occupied a significant portion of the inside which if eliminated could create space for flattening the device further. The great innovation comes from the realization that the protective casing of the phone is actually a conductor and with the appropriate redesign could also serve as an antenna. Focused on this idea of combining both casing and the antenna, the team finds the right design and the new product becomes a hit worldwide. By having taken something no one else would have considered to have another use than what it has always been used for (a casing) this company (not difficult to guess which one) has converted it into an antenna and because of this innovative dual usage saved space and cost…

Are you struggling to find ways to innovate or improve your products or processes? If so, perhaps ask yourself if there are any parts that could be used for a complete different application than what the expectations are. Th element of surprise often drives compassion and interest…

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…

bluestrike logo

www.bluestrike-group.com