Green Innovation: Mother Nature Shows Us How

When you want to clean something in your home, I’ll bet you reach for the nearest bottle of household detergent or bleach and a paper towel to do the job. Spray, wipe and it’s done. You throw away the paper towel. The problem is that there is no ‘away’ because Mother Earth is finite and over the years, all of those paper towels add up. They will decompose over time, but it will take a long time because most likely you put them into your plastic garbage bag which isn’t biodegradable.

Nature has a different solution for cleaning that adds no pollution or waste, and everything is recycled. In my book I write about a science called Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate) where consultants, architects and biologists have come together to catalog these fascinating examples. Self-cleaning is one that is truly revolutionary.

Scientists noticed that the leaves of a Lotus plant remain clean and dry despite the fact that it grows in muddy and often polluted swamps. To the naked eye the leaves appear to be smooth, but under a microscope, they are quite mountainous. When it rains, droplets of moisture, coagulate in the leaf valleys and as water levels rise, droplets roll off, carrying the dirt particles with them. Known as the Lotus Effect, this led to the development of a product called Lotusan®, a building façade paint with the lotus effect, marketed by Sto AG Lotusan. Allowing rainwater to do the exterior cleaning of buildings is now saving companies thousands of dollars in time, energy and human resources.

Researchers at GE have now applied this concept to plastic that is naturally hydrophilic (water-attracting) and to metals used in industrial products. The goal is to increase the efficiency of wind and gas turbine blades and fan blades of jet engines by effectively de-icing them with this technology. They’re also looking at ways to apply the lotus effect to bathroom mirrors, automobile paints, roof shingles and even clothing.

Self-cleaning surfaces are one of thousands of examples of natural solutions. Every day there are more being discovered. Stay tuned and I will add more.Leaf Raindrop

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