Shark Week and Biomimicry: Four Futuristic Technologies Inspired By Sharks
Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch
Sharks are amazing. When you bother to stop and really look at them, they're just flat out amazing creatures. Scientists, thankfully, are studying them ever more closely and are finding many ways in which these prehistoric fish can inspire futuristic technologies, from their skin to the way they feed. 1. Paint That Creates More Efficient Windmills, Airplanes and Ships
Shark skin is a masterpiece of evolution. Made to allow the shark to be perfectly streamlined, scientists have realized it can improve many other items as well. Yvonne Wilke, Volkmar Stenzel and Manfred Peschka of the Fraunhofer Institute have developed a paint based on the textured skin of sharks that will help make the blades of wind turbines spin more effectively. The researchers also believe the paint could be applied to airplanes and save as much as 4.5 million tons of fuel if used on every plane, and they estimate that it could reduce wall friction on container ships which could lead to a 2,000-ton fuel savings annually.
Yvonne Wilke, Dr. Volkmar Stenzel and Manfred Peschka engineered a paint system that can reduce the flow resistance of airplanes and ships. That saves fuel. Credit: Fraunhofer / Dirk Mahler
2. Shark-Inspired "Skin" for Cars to Improve MPG
Shark skin isn't just an inspiration for planes and ships, but for cars too. A company called SkinzWraps has created a coating for cars, and claims a 18-20% improvement in MPG. It seems like an extraordinary change in fuel efficiency, and even two years after the claim came out we're still waiting to hear word from trust worthy sources like Consumer Reports or Popular Mechanics to test it out and see if it really could make that much of a difference. Still, while the product itself is iffy, the principle is not. Sharks have amazing skin.
Yes, shark skin is so amazing, its properties go beyond just aerodynamics and into medicine. Sharklet Technologies has figured out a way to capitalize on the way in which shark skin keeps parasites and bacteria away based on the pattern of the skin's surface.
Popular Science reports, "[T]he film, which is covered with microscopic diamond-shaped bumps, is the first "surface topography" proven to keep the bugs at bay. In tests in a California hospital, for three weeks the plastic sheeting's surface prevented dangerous microorganisms, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus A, from establishing colonies large enough to infect humans."
Returning to renewable energy, a particular kind of shark shows promise for inspiration based on how it feeds. The basking shark is a filter feeder, sucking in zooplankton and tiny fish. It has an extended gill slit that allows the large amounts of water it filters to easily escape. It is this gill slit that has engineers interested, including those at Strait Power.
Ask Nature writes, "The Strait Power turbine has a double converging nozzle, an opening within an opening. Water enters through both openings, and water entering through the second opening creates a pressure differential that draws water through to produce more energy. The technology is patent-pending, and founder Anthony Reale has filed for 5 potential applications ranging from portable devices, to home installation, to high powered commercial generator applications."
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