Fish gill-inspired water management system wins student design contest

Martin Cathrae/CC BY-SA 2.0

Fish have inspired their fair share of cool technologies from sensing systems for underwater robots to more powerful wind turbines. The latest comes from a team of civil engineering students at University of Toronto who have won the first round of the Biomimicry Student Design Challenge with a fish gill-inspired water management system. The team's biomimetic design solves one of the biggest problems in a pipeline system: entrapped air.

The release of compressed air in a pipeline causes pressure surges that can create fractures that not only let water leak out, making the system less efficient, but also let pollutants in that can cause water-borne illnesses. The students found that fish gills offered a design solution that could increase water delivery efficiency, decrease water-borne illness and lower wastewater operating costs.

© University of Toronto

“We looked back and forth between water management issues we were most concerned about and organisms for inspiration until we found an ideal match: a current need that could be solved by nature’s ingenuity,” said Rebecca Dziedzic, member of the University of Toronto team. “Fish rely on separating oxygen from water in order to breathe. When we looked closely at gills, we realized that the design principles applied by these organisms could be replicated, creating an efficient, adaptable, and multifunctional device.”

The resulting design relies on placing air-permeable membranes along a pipeline that would let air escape, but not water. This allows built up gases to be removed regularly, avoiding pressure build-ups, without costly and inefficient pumps and valves.

Vimeo/Video screen capture

The University of Toronto team will receive $2,500 for their first place design and will go on to the final round where they will work on bringing it closer to implementation. They'll be mentored by StartupNectar, a bimomicry business incubator and will compete with other finalists for a $10,000 grand prize at the Biomimicry Education Summit and Global Conference, June 21-23, 2013.

The second and third place finalists that will also go on to the conference were a team from Artesis University College Antwerp in Belgium that created a “Time Capsule” design that uses evaporative cooling inspired by the honeybee to keep fruits and vegetables fresh with minimal cost and water use, and a team from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile whose “Fog Farming Dynamic System” design allows farmers to cultivate plants in the Atacama Desert environment by combining existing fog-capture technology with a unique planting pattern.

You can hear more about the fish gill design in the video below.

UofT Civil Grads Biomimicry Design Challenge from Andrew Knox on Vimeo.

Tags: Biomimicry | Technology | Water Conservation

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