Many people feel that completely revising the way we think about design and innovation is the answer to achieving a truly sustainable society (think Cradle to Cradle). As more scientists, engineers, and designers start to tackle problems of design crucial to using, wasting, and polluting less, it's becoming obvious that the most successful designs are those that mimic processes already taking place in nature.
According to the Biomimicry Institute, "biomimicry is an emerging discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems." Because nature is one of the most efficient, resourceful machines we've ever, uh, lived on, this is a discipline that is both exciting and promising.
(If you've never heard of biomimicry before, check out MNN's "7 amazing examples of biomimicry")
The latest innovation from the world of biomimicry is both simple and mindblowing- a Titanium ‘leaf’ that could unlock the secrets of hydrogen power and create a sustainable, safe and cheap alternative to fossil fuels.
Known as “AIL” the Artificial Inorganic Leaf, this piece of technology was based on the wonderfully simplistic design of the leaf, an organic machine that's able to split water into its components — hydrogen and oxygen — using only sunlight.
AIL was presented to thousands of the world's finest scientists at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco last month by a research team from the Shanghai Jiaotong University in China.
The Shanghai team has been working with leaf structures to better understand the process in order to replicate a man-made version of the leaf that could be adapted to do the inverse — splitting water to make hydrogen fuel — using a typical photocatalyst like titanium dioxide (one of the most abundant minerals on Earth).
By “biotemplating” the titanium dioxide to mimic the light harvesting structures of the leaf (and adding platinum nanoparticles to magnify the effect) the research team was able to get 80x the efficiency of current technologies for producing hydrogen gas (GreenDig.net).
We often think of sustainable technologies as being on the "cutting-edge" of science, making them complicated and mysterious, but it may just be that the re-designs that save us will merely be larger replicas of the humble technology that's been operating all around us for millions of years.
Got a favorite example of biomimicry? Share it in a comment!
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons - antaen