• Biomimicry
  • Net-Zero
  • Technology Innovation
  • Energy Ecosystem
  • Electric Grid
  • Battery Storage

Learning from Nature Can Unlock Commercial Opportunities and Help Tackle Net-Zero

Alexandra Reid
Aug 24, 2023

Bees on honeycomb

By drawing on nature’s 3.8 billion years of R&D, biomimicry—the practice of emulating nature’s patterns and systems to solve human challenges—has emerged as a powerful tool for innovation and sustainable design. As deadlines to deliver net-zero approach and the challenges associated with the energy system become increasingly complex, biomimicry offers a unique blueprint for creating a more regenerative and resilient world.

Commercial applications relevant to the energy industry include the following:

  • The beak shape of the kingfisher bird inspired the design of the Shinkansen, Japan’s high speed train, enabling engineers to reduce the noise created by the train when entering and exiting tunnels.
  • The bumpy leading edge of humpback whale flippers inspired the design of wind turbine blades, improving aerodynamic performance and reducing noise.
  • The unique ventilation system of termite mounds have inspired energy efficient building designs. By incorporating similar airflow principles, engineers can create natural ventilation systems that reduce the need for artificial cooling.
Biomimicry in Energy Storage: An Organism View

Despite rapid development in energy storage solutions, further progress is required to deliver net-zero worldwide. Examples include further increasing lithium ion battery energy density for EV storage technologies and securing system benefits from hydrogen storage deployments. At an organism level, biomimicry is yielding promising breakthroughs in energy storage.

  • Energy storage inspired by electric eels: Electric eels can generate and discharge electrical pulses. Researchers are exploring the possibility of mimicking eels’ unique electric organ to develop efficient, high density energy storage devices.
  • Mussel-inspired adhesives for battery electrodes: Mussels have an exceptional ability to attach themselves to various surfaces using adhesive proteins. Academics have developed mussel-inspired adhesives that can enhance the stability and durability of battery electrodes, which can improve the performance and longevity of energy storage devices.
  • Bioinspired flow batteries: Flow batteries are a type of energy storage system that uses liquid electrolytes stored in external tanks. Researchers are looking at circulatory systems in animals to explore biomimetic approaches to enhancing the efficiency and performance of flow batteries. Mimicking the way blood circulates may enable the design of more efficient and self-healing flow battery systems.
Biomimicry in Energy Systems: A Systems View

Biomimicry solutions can also be applied at a systems level to address larger issues such as resilience and grid optimization.

  • Neural network-inspired grid optimization: Neural networks in living organisms, such as in the human brain, exhibit remarkable efficiency and adaptability. Researchers are exploring the development of intelligent algorithms that can optimize electricity and gas distribution networks. These algorithms mimic a neural networks’ ability to learn, adapt, and make real-time decisions, leading to more efficient energy distribution and reduced losses.
  • Swarm intelligence for energy efficiency: Social insects like ants or bees exhibit efficient collective behaviors in tasks such as foraging and nest construction and repair. Swarm intelligence-inspired systems can collaborate, communicate, and self-organize to identify issues, perform inspections, and repair infrastructure more efficiently and cost-effectively.
  • Ant colony optimization algorithms for network planning: Ant colonies are known for their ability to find the shortest and most efficient paths between their nests and food sources. Algorithms have been developed that mimic this behavior to solve complex optimization problems. These algorithms can be applied to network planning in gas and electricity systems, optimizing the routing and placement of infrastructure, minimizing costs, and maximizing network efficiency.
Biomimicry Shortfalls Can Be Overcome with Research Funding

The process of translating biological inspiration into practical applications takes time and significant research. It can be challenging to bridge the gap between the initial inspiration from nature and a fully functional, market-ready product. To fully exploit the potential of biomimicry as an innovation tool, identifying funding routes is essential. Government agencies (e.g., UK Research and Innovation), private foundations, and nonprofit organizations often offer grants and funding programs to support scientific research, including in biomimicry. In addition, building strategic partnerships with industry partners can lead to funding opportunities, joint research projects, and even commercialization prospects.

Opportunities for Applying Biomimicry in Network Innovation

As the energy system challenges of today become increasingly complex, biomimicry offers a unique approach to tackling network build-out design. Guidehouse, with its diverse, multidisciplinary set of expertise and considerable experience across innovation projects—from business and digital services across infrastructure reliance, asset management, and risk management to emerging technology research, data, and benchmarking services—is uniquely positioned to design and develop bioinspired solutions that address the most important network build-out design problems of the 21st century. Please contact areid@guidehouse.com should you like to find out more.