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A Methodology for Identifying Factors That Contribute to the Sustainability of Bioinspired Engineered Systems

[+] Author Affiliations
Julia M. O’Rourke, Carolyn C. Seepersad

The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

Paper No. IMECE2011-62605, pp. 845-857; 13 pages
  • ASME 2011 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Volume 3: Design and Manufacturing
  • Denver, Colorado, USA, November 11–17, 2011
  • Conference Sponsors: ASME
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5489-1
  • Copyright © 2011 by ASME


Within the bodies of living organisms are multitudes of sustainable design solutions that scientists have yet to discover and engineers have yet to master. Living organisms employ novel methods of harvesting energy from ambient sources, producing materials at low temperatures, and optimizing shapes to achieve energy efficiency, among many other sustainability-enhancing techniques. Through sustainable bioinspired design, engineers can apply this body of knowledge to engineered products and systems. In order to do this, a better understanding is needed of the types of sustainability solutions present in biology and readily available to engineers. One approach to this problem is to analyze existing bioinspired designs with an environmental advantage over alternatives and find trends in the types of sustainable solutions present in these designs. The purpose of this paper is to present a methodology for identifying trends embodied in existing, sustainable, bioinspired designs. For this study, a broad and representative list of currently available bioinspired designs was compiled including gecko robots, lotus leaf-inspired self-cleaning surfaces, termite-inspired buildings, and kingfisher-inspired trains. Three criteria were used to determine which designs should be studied in detail: (1) verification that the design was actually bioinspired, (2) evidence that the design is or was physically embodied, either as a functional prototype or as a commercial product, and (3) literature-based demonstration of environmentally beneficial characteristics. Due to time limitations, a fourth criterion was also used: (4) literature-based demonstration of environmentally beneficial characteristics in the use phase of the design; however, the procedure presented is valid for designs offering sustainability advantages in any life cycle phase. The bioinspired designs meeting the selection criteria were analyzed in detail, along with their functionally-equivalent alternatives. The sustainability advantages of the bioinspired designs, relative to their alternatives, were identified using a list of 65 published green design guidelines. This paper presents the methodology for each of these steps, including the benefits and drawbacks. In addition, a detailed explanation is provided for each step using bioinspired examples.

Copyright © 2011 by ASME



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