Biomimicry and Building Materials - What You Need to Know

 

Imagine spending four billion years in school.  That is a lot of education, and it forms the baseline for everything around us as we know it. For billions of years, nature has been adapting and evolving to changing temperatures, sea levels, climates, canopies and weather patterns, constantly learning and adjusting to survive.

 

Building has evolved for a few thousand years, starting with rocks, peaking with glass-clad high rises across the globe, and now settling back into an attempted harmony with nature.  

 

We are optimistic about the trend of bringing nature into the space through Biophilic Design, and we are eager to see more widespread adoption of Biomimicry on its heels.  

 

What is biomimicry?

Biomimicry is looking at what nature has done and learning from it.  The built environment is at a critical point in adopting biomimicry in order to survive.  We have to look at nature and model ourselves after its most optimal systems. Look at a forest: its leaves drink in the sun, using photosynthesis to create its own energy, growing, shading the ecosystem below, dropping its leaves to the ground to be broken down into the soil, so it can continue to grow.  Trees are pulling carbon dioxide from the air for their own fuel, and releasing beneficial oxygen back into the air. A closed-loop system, ideal, perpetual.

 

How can biomimicry be applied to architecture and design?

Fostered life, fueled themselves, gave back to the environment.  We are at the point in building design where Biomimetic Architecture is a course, and designers are seeing the need to create better buildings.  

 

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) was one of the first out of the gate to recognize buildings that took steps toward this Utopian goal, and many buildings across the world have achieved Petal or full certifications for LBC.  The full standard can be found at the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) website.  

 

Related: Build Green Live Green Podcast - Living Building Challenge 

 

Biomimicry is not a full-fledged adoption of a building standard though, it is a careful consideration of an existing form, function or ecosystem and applying it to a different field.

 

Examples of biomimicry in design  

 

Photo by Mother Nature Network

The burdock was encountered decades ago by a man walking his dog in the woods.  He was fascinated with how the plant had attached itself and began to analyze the mechanism of tiny hooks, and voila - he invented Velcro.

 

Another example can be found with the Namib desert beetle. The Namib desert beetle sits atop dunes facing the sea and tiny bumps on its back create a hydrophilic surface (one that water attracts and flattens out vs. beads up across), increasing the amount of moisture it captures, and funnels it down its back, to its mouth, for hydration.  This technique is often used in many water recapturing designs for arid climates, as it greatly increases the amount of water that can be harvested.

 

Transportation design has long been influenced by the way birds fly, the shape of their wings, beaks, lift of their bodies and weight ratios, as well as marine transportation mimicking sea creatures shape, fin function and body form.

 

In the built environment, the examples are emerging, but we believe there will be a substantial development in biomimicry in the coming decades.

 

Havelock Wool insulation replaces caustic fiberglass with nature’s insulator:  Sheep’s wool. Mimicking the regulation of body heat, Havelock wool, when installed in a wall cavity regulates humidity, trapping moisture when it exceeds 65% humidity and releasing it when it falls below.  It also permanently sequesters formaldehyde from the air, a chemical often found it cheap framing and sheathing materials used in construction.

 

PaperStone mimics the natural lignin found in a wood with its proprietary petroleum-free resin, based on plant lignin.  The material bonds and fills in the voids within the recycled paper with which it is married to form PaperStone. Replicating nature’s natural wood fiber-lignin bond with an even more durable material results in a surface with a natural feel, but steel-like strength.

 

Lapitec sintered stone was developed with the future in mind.  The material can be used indoors or out to break down pollutants and odors on its surface.  It is easily cleaned and results in substantially less detergent use, due to its hydrophilic properties. Referencing our desert beetle example, Lapitec uses hydrophilic properties to cause water to spread easily and uniformly across its impervious surface, easily lifting dirt and pollutants from its surface.  The Bio-Care technology designed into Lapitec is unmatched in the surfacing space.

 

Lapitec also performs as a forest in an urban setting.  It breaks down pollutants in the air, with a study showing that 100 square meters of Lapitec can break down the equivalent amount of CO2 as 26 trees in 8 hours (of daylight).  The UV reaction with the Titanium Dioxide catalyst in the material allows for a Lapitec-clad building to behave like a forest, resulting in healthier cities and homes.

 

Columbia Forest Products Purebond sheet goods were modeled after a mollusk protein proven to be a good binder.  This VOC and formaldehyde free adhesive (soybond) was developed by modifying a soy protein to behave like the protein observed in the mollusk.

 

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of what the building industry and material manufacturers are doing to incorporate nature into product and building design.  The ideal is closed-loop systems that are self-sustaining, but in the meantime, let’s start building with better materials that give back to the spaces we are in.   Keep your caustic insulation, your silica-laden quartz, and your formaldehyde, we continue to look for and bring to market better products for your health.

 

Looking to learn more about biomimicry and building materials? Set up a lunch and learn with your local sales rep. Lunch is on us!

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