Inspired by visionary scientists E.O. Wilson and Janine Benyus, green architects, engineers, and product designers are turning to biological research to improve their products’ performance, applying nature’s elegant solutions to architectural and structural design and product enhancement.

The process, called “biomimicry,” is based on the premise that nature already has solved many of the technological challenges we face through “3.8 billion years of R&D,” as Benyus puts it. “Biomimicry is the conscious emulation of life’s genius,” she says. “By consulting organisms and ecosystems and applying the underlying design principles to our innovations, we can solve human problems sustainably.”

For green building, biomimicry is seen as offering inspiration for conserving resources, gathering water, and capturing energy.

The potential is vast, and the field is still young, but the number of exciting biomimicry-based products under development is growing steadily. Sto Corp.’s Lotusan self-cleaning exterior paint, for example, was inspired by the superhydrophobic characteristics of lotus plant leaf surfaces. Similarly, Erlus Lotus clay roof tiles feature a baked-on surface finish that also mimics how lotus leaves react to sunlight to destroy organic dirt particles, moss, and algae that are then easily washed away by rain.

Australia-based Dyesol is manufacturing solar cells that are based on the Kokia cookei tree’s photosynthesis process and that use dye-sensitized cells to generate electricity at lower cost and embodied energy (and with higher efficiencies) than traditional silicon technologies.

Inspired? Learn more at www.asknature.org.

Sustainable building product designers are increasingly finding inspiration in nature and applying biology-based solutions to their technical challenges. 

Taking a cue from the role chlorophyll plays in photosynthesis, Dyesol solar collectors use a dye in their PV cells to convert sunlight into electricity.

Taking a cue from the role chlorophyll plays in photosynthesis, Dyesol solar collectors use a dye in their PV cells to convert sunlight into electricity.

Sto Corp.’s Lotusan coating mimics the surface of a lotus leaf to repel water and dirt.

Sto Corp.’s Lotusan coating mimics the surface of a lotus leaf to repel water and dirt.