“Biomimetic materials have the potential to rewrite our story of stuff,” says Tim McGee, Senior Biologist at the Biomimicry Group. “For most of the materials we use today we’re mining either ore or oil, we transport them, we heat them, we machine them and then they usually have products baked into them that are slightly toxic or not benign. That’s completely different than the way natural systems use materials.”
Nature, McGee says, uses materials that are readily available nearby and does so in a way that when they’re no longer needed they can be broken down into their component parts and used again. It’s not a novel concept. New York-based Ecovative “grows” packaging materials, plastics (living polymers), and building insulation from things like mycelia (basically mushroom roots). The industrial input: agricultural byproducts like buckwheat husks and cotton seed hulls--no harsh chemicals, no global supply chain of raw materials (pictured are Eben Bayer [left] and Gavin McIntyre of Ecovative with their mushroom-based material).
By looking to ecosystems as a model, we could reorganize our entire supply chain of “stuff” by using biomimetic materials that are sourced locally and manipulated into essentially whatever we want them to be without harsh chemical processes. How? McGee sees huge potential in tweaking 3-D printing tech to be more bio-friendly. “Right now rapid 3-D printing uses these plastics and metals and other things we already know how to work with,” he says. “I think biomimicry could completely change that story by having those rapid prototyping materials be bio-inspired and really perform in a way that we’ve never seen materials perform.”