Miriam Pye: Biomimicry as a Brainstorming Technique

biomimicry innovation is key to alternative energyIf you are looking for more evidence that biomimicry is a significant innovation trend with profound implications for sustainable economic growth, a brief chat with Miriam Pye will convince you. At least, it convinced Triple Pundit. Pye is a Senior Project Manager for Industrial Research at NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. She currently oversees the Product Innovation Program and Biomimicry programs, but that is a relatively new development in a long career that launched with an MBA and a background in finance, before moving on to energy and environmental issues. With her feet planted firmly in the business world, Pye focuses biomimicry through the lens of “doing things that make sense economically.”

Biomimicry as a Shortcut to Innovation

As Pye sees it, biomimicry is just one part of an innovator’s toolkit, but it is a “really great” one that adds an element of fun to the brainstorming process – and fun, as Silicon Valley has demonstrated, can be an incredibly effective tool.  Essentially, biomimicry recognizes that”animals, plants and microbes are consummate engineers” that have solved complex problems over great periods of time. Humans don’t have the time, but we can use the engineering principles found in nature to jump start research and development, reaching an economical solution with fewer sidetracks and dead ends. “Nature accelerates R&D” is the bottom line for Pye.

A Biomimcry Toolkit at Your Fingertips

To get a taste of the brainstorming potential of biomimicry, Pye recommends checking into asknature.org, a project of the Biomimicry Institute based in Missoula, Montana. The site features a searchable library of biomimicry projects, accessed by filling in the question “How would nature…?” For example, “how would nature waterproof fabric?” gives you a group of fabrics and fabric finishes based on principles at work in fur, butterfly wings, frog skin and waterbug exoskeletons, along with related products such as glues and insulating materials.

The Next Big Step for Biomimicry

NYSERDA has a started off in 1975 with the mission of weaning New York State from petroleum dependency. Initially that mission focused strongly on nuclear energy. More recently the agency has been transitioning to alternative energy, so its efforts to include biomimicry could serve as a bellwether for similar programs across the country. The next step includes a two-year contract with the firm Terrapin Bright Green, which has assembled a biomimicry “dream team” to work with industry groups on brainstorming sessions.

Biomimicry Goes National

To give you an idea of just how profound an impact NYSERDA’s biomimicry initiative could have, Terrapin Bright Green’s first project was to develop a workshop for the NY-BEST Consortium. BEST stands for Battery Energy Storage Technology. It is the field for developing the kind of advanced storage solutions that are essential to the future of alternative energy and smart grid technology, which is a primary area of focus for the U.S. Department of Energy. That includes an electric vehicle battery initiative, which in turn ties into President Obama’s network of initiatives for establishing an electric vehicle infrastructure.

The Biomimicry Index

Just a few months ago, Triple Pundit noted the emergence of a new economic index for biomimicry activity, called the Da Vinci Index. It tracks the number of scholarly articles related to biomimicry along with patents, grants, and the dollar value of grants. From a baseline of 100 in the year 2000, the Da Vinci Index shot up to 713 by 2010. Given efforts such as NYSERDA’s, it is likely that the index will continue to show rapid advances in biomimicry activity.

Image credit: Butterfly wing. Some rights reserved by TheGiantVermin

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

One response

  1. NYSERDA appears to be THE state agency that has formally adopted the biomimicry framework & tool kit into its energy portfolio and put resources to make it work…watch that space!

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