Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bees are out...and it's March

Photo credit: World of Warmth via AskNature.org
Bees buzzing your head is a startling occasion at any time, but when they started to buzz Amy's head as she sat outside in March, she started to wonder how our unseasonably early spring will affect our most important pollinators?  And thinking about it, how do bees survive Chicago winters at all?  And is there anything we can learn from them?

Bees are social insects and spend their lives in colonies, or hives.  They live and die in their colonies and do not migrate to warmer climates seasonally, so when the temperatures hit freezing, how do bees keep their nests?  It turns out, they vibrate.  The intentional vibration of their thorax creates heat so that their young can survive the cold.  Intentionally creating heat or harnessing energy from vibration is not something we tend to emulate in the built environment - in fact, it accounts for energy loss and unwanted heat gain.  But perhaps by harnessing vibrational energy as a source of heat, we could save energy on our mechanical systems.

Genetic diversity also plays a role in keeping the hive warm during winter.  When hives are genetically diverse and sired from more than one male, they will have different comfort levels and therefor different temperature response thresholds. When a few individuals with a high threshold feel the hive is cold, they begin to vibrate.  When the temperature continues to drop and others with a lower cold threshold feel the hive is cold, they begin to vibrate at that lower temperature, and so on.  The colder it gets in the hive, the more bees will vibrate to maintain 32 - 36 degree Fahrenheit in the winter.  The opposite is true for cooling the hive in summer when bees use their wings as fans to expel hot air. This distributed response mechanism dampens temperature spikes and keeps the hive at a livable temperature.  From this, we can be inspired to set building thermostats at different thresholds to regulate staggered response, saving energy versus an "all on/all off" approach.  

And this is just a few ideas - the possibilities of biomimicry are endless!  What ideas do you have?

Read Amy's full post at her blog, Liquid Triangle Sustainability

Biomimicry Seminar this April

Be sure to register for a FREE 2-hour seminar Amy and Lindsay are holding about biomimicry at the Chicago Center for Green Technology on Thursday, April 12th at 6pm.  We're holding this as a professional service and as a way to get the word out that biomimicry has much to offer our local design community.  FREE learning units about biomimicry don't come around too often, so be sure to sign up here and we'll see you there!

Upcoming Biomimicry Seminar in Chicago

Amy and Lindsay are presenting a seminar on Biomimicry as a design innovation strategy at the Chicago Center for Green Technology Thursday, April 12th at 6pm.  The course is a professional service and free, but registration is required.  Hope to see you there!

Biomimicry: Naturally Inspired Design Innovation

SPEAKER: Amy Coffman Phillips, Liquid Triangle Sustainability; and Lindsay James, InterfaceFLOR

Biomimicry, the practice of learning from nature to solve human problems, is emerging as a powerful tool for creating sustainable design and systemic transformation. Applied at a variety of scales, from individual products to buildings and organizations, biomimicry bring nature’s 3.8 billion years of innovation experience to the table. Our discussion will examine this quickly evolving practice, review what it is, how it is being applied and its powerful potential for the future. AIA/CES: 2LU

Click here for the full course catalog - lots of fun programs!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Humidity BE GONE! Thanks Biomimicry!

Taking advantage of natural heating, cooling and ventilation is about as biomimetic as you can get on a design project. However, depending on your location, if humidity, temperature and wind velocity metrics do not fall within a specific range, you can kiss natural ventilation goodbye.

The Namibian Beetle (Stenocara gracilipes), found in southwest coast of Africa, utilized the microscopic bumps on its back to obtain all of the water it needs by removing ocean fog. The bumps have hydrophilic (water attracting) tips and hydrophobic (water repelling) sides that cause water droplets to materialize out of thin air on its back, then slide down channels into its awaiting mouth. Fog harvesting material is under development at MIT and can be utilized to dehumidify air before it enters a building space.
Photo: Patrick Gill

Although the Humidity levels shown below for Chicago (HOK Climate Tool) are relatively low throughout operational hours, they are above comfort levels 60% of the day. Combining humidity with temperature and wind speed further reduces the potential for natural ventilation. See image to the right from the HOK Climate Tool. Removing Humidity from the air before it is brought into the building space can increase the natural ventilation potential for 20% of the year and significantly reduce operational costs for heating and cooling. There are other Biomimetic strategies that can aid in the reduction or increase in temperature and wind speed to create the perfect conditions for natural ventilation. I will save those for a later posting.

HOK Climate Tool

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Winning Design!

The stunning #Biomimicry Student Design Challenge winning design, inspired by the humble snail: http://bit.ly/y2kNK9

Press Release:

Using the desert snail as inspiration for their design, a team of students from the Art Institute of Isfahan in Iran took the top honor in the third annual Biomimicry Student Design Challenge, organized by the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute. The team, consisting of master’s level and undergraduate students in architecture and business, conceived of a building that makes use of self-shading, surface reflection, and insulation to create a livable habitat rather than relying on air conditioning.