Biomimicry Education Summit

The Velvet Underground

Occupy Wall Street
Occupy LegoLand - Andrew Burton/REUTERS
The mycelial network underground
Social media network connections for Tweeters mentioning OccupyWallStreet
I just returned from the annual Biomimicry Education Summit in Portland. What a fantastic trip! The highlight for me was dancing with Janine Benyus until two in the morning. That lady can indeed dance. Did you know she was a New Jersey DJ back in the days of the Talking Heads? I bet she could spin some tracks...

I asked her what she thought of the Occupy movement. She replied with this story:

Some time ago, the late Vaclav Havel, revolutionary poet and reluctant first democratically-elected president of Czechoslovakia, wanted to speak with her. She arrived to find him already too ill to meet her, but his Velvet Revolution friends took her on a whirlwind tour of the old underground hideouts. Janine was amazed to discover that most people lived their ordinary lives right below the surface, completely separate from their official lives above ground. Havel's friends explained that one day, everyone simply came out into the light to live their real life, and the revolution was a reality. Janine sees a parallel to our current situation. The infrastructure is already here in place, just like the mycelium of the fungus underground, and the new future, just like the fruiting body of the mycelium (the mushroom), is ready to pop out from the underground network that is right below our feet. Even as we speak.

Thank you, Janine, for a night of revelry and optimism.

How would Nature Make a Solar Panel?

Unlike a lot of conferences, the Biomimicry Education Summit in Portland this week really did not feature much in the way of products. However, Sam Cochran, the CEO of SMIT (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology) was invited to speak about his solar ivy. I found him and his technology to be pretty inspiring, so I thought I'd tell you about it here.

Sam is a young guy, recently graduated from Pratt Institute's Industrial Design program. Which makes his story all the more compelling. He saw a problem, saw a solution in nature, made a prototype, and found financial support to bring his product to market. Maybe any kid with a bright idea, a little tinkering, and a lot of energy can make it happen.

Sam saw ugly solar panels on various buildings, and thought, "why not make them more like leaves?" Now, if you've given it much thought, and I have, you know that photovoltaics don't hold a candle to the elegance and efficiency of the real deal. Photosynthesis is nothing short of serious design genius. But still, we grasshoppers must study the master.

Leaves are modular, replaceable, orient themselves to the light, take a diversity of forms depending on local conditions, are aesthetically pleasing, vertically positioned, and have dual functions for water management and root shading. Sam mimicked these features with GROW, customizable, flexible, leaf-shaped thin-film organic photovoltaics. They are 100% recyclable, with the lowest carbon footprint available. Each leaf can be tuned for maximum exposure and output, mimic desired canopy shading conditions, and even illuminate in different colors for signage. How much would you pay? WAIT, don't answer! Because you also get this: They can capture wind energy using a piezoelectric generator!

Accompanying software evaluates buildings for optimal GROWing conditions, and SMIT also offers photovoltaic tensile solar fabric that can be used for tents, canopies, umbrellas, carports, boat sails, about a wetsuit? Now you won't have to pee in it to stay warm. This fabric can also be used to collect water while it generates electricity.

Breaking news is that SMIT will be installing Solar Ivy at the University of Utah in the very near future. Thanks for sharing your fantastic journey with us, Sam. Keep making the world a better place and showing other young folks how to do it too! Good luck!