Architects are designing buildings to imitate Termite mounds, using the brilliant design to cut down on cooling and heating costs. The technology described in depth in a recent paper published in the journal Frontiers could be a tremendous development in architecture.
The idea came from close research of certain kinds of termites that eat a specific fungus as their primary food source. This fungus, which grows in the termite mounds, is temperature sensitive so the mound must stay at 87° F in all kinds of environments and weather conditions.
The exact mechanism in which the temperature is regulated is still debated, but the authors of the new paper in the journal Frontiers believe they have the answer (for a particular species). They think that the mounds work together with the connected underground nest and tunnels to act almost like a lung.
Their description is quite complex but the basic idea is that air is pushed through the tiny mound by wind and exchanged efficiently through a complex lattice of tunnels.
The authors of the paper are already thinking about how they can use the brilliant design life created in artificial walls to drastically lower heating and cooling costs.
Termite Mound-Inspired Walls Are Only The Most Recent Example of Biomimicry
Life has had billions of years of steady evolution to get things right. It certainly isn’t perfect by any means but evolution has resulted in millions of brilliant solutions to all kinds of problems. It is also particularly good at optimizing certain traits that affect the overall fitness of a life form.
Brilliant inventors and innovators turn to existing living things for inspiration all the time. Some of the ideas that come from this method are rather obvious, like solar panels imitating the leaves of a plant.
Others are much less obvious, like using the design of termite mounds to build a naturally cool building or replicating the sticky burrs on burdock weeds to make velcro. Likewise, biotech companies often look for ways to mimic the mechanisms of living organisms.
One architect has already tried to put insights he gained from termite mounds into a major product too. Mick Pearce designed the Eastgate Building in Harare, Zimbabwe with heating and cooling vents inspired by similar vents in termite mounds. With these innovations, the building doesn’t need air conditioning and only a small amount of heating in the winter.
Why Is the Termite Mound Design So Important?
The innovation could dramatically lower electricity costs for people around the world because buildings inspired by termite mounds would need much less heating and cooling. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Americans spend $73 billion every year on space heating alone.
Air conditioning is also quite expensive, especially because it requires a lot of energy. The Department of Energy reported that US homeowners spend nearly $30 billion every year on air conditioning alone. According to the Energy Information Administration, air conditioning accounts for 12% of all household energy.
This is likely only the beginning as air conditioners are only ubiquitous in the US and a few other countries. The International Energy Association (IEA) released a report that noted that by 2050 the number of air conditioners in the world will grow from 1.6 billion today to 5.6 billion.
The IEA’s report also discussed how important it will be to make air conditioners more efficient. It estimated that simply giving efficiency requirements for AC units would save as much as $2.9 trillion.
If the termite-inspired design takes off and reduces the amount of cooling needed drastically, it could literally save trillions of dollars. That doesn’t even consider the effect it would have on climate change either.
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