What is biomimicry, and what does is have to do with the design of my swimming pool?
27 Mar What is biomimicry, and what does is have to do with the design of my swimming pool?
Biomimicry: What it is and Why it Matters in the Pool Industry
Today, advertising in all forms of media is awash with claims about products being “green.” Frankly, many of these claims are, as they say, “bravo sierra.”
However, an interesting measure of what it means to be “green” can be gleaned from the burgeoning science of biomimicry, also known as biomimetics. This discipline basically says that when confronted with an engineering problem, we should look for an example of the same problem in nature and determine if the problem can be solved by imitating a natural design or system.
The main “green” premise here is that natural selection over the course of life on earth has probably “figured out” a sustainable and low-energy consumption solution to the problem. As you’ll see below, the natural swimming pool (or NSP) uses this idea quite well, and I would challenge others in the industry to apply this concept to other components of watershapes including liners, pumps, filters and structural components.
For example, airplanes are loosely modeled after birds, but I don’t think anyone would argue that jet airplanes are particularly green. However, when we look at the engineering problems associated with making them “greener,” we can use biomimicry as a guideline.
Airplane wings don’t flap like a bird’s; airplanes aren’t built with lightweight, hollow bone covered with skin and feathers; and they aren’t powered by eating bugs and worms. But to the extent that we’ve improved on their design by constructing airplane wings that flex, by using winglets to eliminate drag-inducing wingtip vortices and by using carbon fiber to reduce structural weight, we have emulated some of the natural designs to improve the efficiency of flight. Converting bugs and worms into jet fuel might be the next big thing!
Another example of biomimicry: the imitation of the dermal denticles covering the “skin” of sharks and rays. This tooth-like skin has the property that it glides through water in the direction of motion with minimum drag, therefore requiring low energy for propulsion. Dermal denticles are also particularly resistant to algae and other forms of phytoplankton and zooplankton. When “shark skin” swimsuits were invented, using dermal denticles manufactured to emulate real shark skin, they were so effective they were banned from major competitive swimming venues. However, the same type of product is used to cover the hulls of ships, resulting in lower fuel consumption — the ships require less energy for propulsion — and mitigated use of chemicals and labor to remove algae and barnacles.
Biomimicry led scientists to a greener design for both swimmers and ships at sea.
The NSP is another good example of biomimicry. In fact, the German-based Internationale Organisation für naturnahe Badegewässer (International Organization for Natural Bathing Waters or IOB) has stated that in order to qualify as a NSP, a system must be used that mimics or emulates a system that exists in nature. Over the 3.8 billion years that life has evolved on this planet, nature has developed a highly effective system — a balanced ecosystem in freshwater — that allows many forms of life to co-exist and to work in tandem to clarify and purify water.
This balanced freshwater ecosystem contains producers (plants, algae, phytoplankton), consumers (herbivores and zooplankton) and reducers (fungi and bacteria). Also key is the nitrogen cycle for waste management, specifically to convert organic debris from the environment into food for plants. Nature’s end result is water that is safe for drinking and recreation.
Building a NSP by mimicking these biological systems allows us to optimize the freshwater ecosystem principles and produce water that is clean, clear living water safe for recreational use. We need no added chemical sanitizers, disinfectants or other chemicals and devices to control algae or contaminants, just as we find no such chemicals in natural systems.
The success of natural systems for safe freshwater is proven by the survival and evolution of our species. Natural swimming pools are a very green application of biomimicry: a positive option for human health and the environment.