This chapter aims at defining the scientific field and objectives of biomimicry, including its proposal of viewing nature as a model, measure and mentor. Furthermore, the overarching principles found in all forms of life will be elucidated. Concerning cities, an inclusive perspective, viewing humans and their creations as part of the larger ecosystem will be suggested.
Various Definitions of Biomimicry
‘Biomimicry’ derives from the Greek ‘bios’ meaning life and ‘mimesis’ to imitate. The Oxford English Dictionary (2011) defines biomimicry as ”the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modelled on biological entities and processes.’. A more specific definition is provided by the Merriam-Webster collegiate dictionary (2004), which suggests that biomimicry is ‘The study of the formation, structure, or function of biologically produced substances and materials and biological mechanisms and processes especially for the purpose of synthesizing similar products by artificial mechanisms which mimic natural ones.’
In practical terms, the field of biomimicry encourages and emphasizes the study of designs, processes and systems found in nature, consequently applying these natural concepts to human innovation, as stated by the renowned biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus (2002). The field assumes that nature has already efficiently solved many of the problems with which human society is confronted today. Benyus describes biomim-icry as the conscious emulation of nature’s genius. Furthermore, biomimicry proposes a change of perspective, away from viewing nature as a mere source of raw materials and towards a holistic approach, realizing the potential of nature as a measure, model and mentor. In a nutshell, biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature (Benyus 2002).
2.2 Nature as Model, Measure and Mentor
According to Benyus, the first step in a biomimetic design approach must be to use nature as a model by closely examining natural structures, functions, and systems and identifying methods to apply the findings to improve current technologies or develop innovative technologies. Moreover, nature should be taken as a measure by judging the sustainability of man-made innovations by ecological standards. Benyus posits that after 3.8 billion years of evolution nature’s proficiency can be trusted more than any human perception of genius, as no human technology has had the opportunity of such extensive and comprehensive field testing. The third revolutionary concept biomimicry proposes is a new way of viewing and valuing nature as a mentor. Instead of attempt-ing to extract from the natural world to the fullest extent, future efforts should focus on learning from nature and assimilating its genius as far as possible (Benyus 2002).
2.3 Life’s Principles
In order to facilitate a deeper understanding of the most important lessons to be learned from nature, Biomimicry 3.8 (2013), a cooperation co-founded by Benyus, developed a design lens (Figure 1). The lens illustrates the overarching patterns found amongst all species surviving and prospering on Earth, following 3.8 billion years of natural selection and subsequent evolution. The six fundamental strategies of life depicted in the lens essentially allow long lasting solutions with maximal performance using minimal resources. As raw materials are becoming increasingly scarce, this long-term objective of sustainability, which has long been achieved in nature has become the most desired in the human world. Furthermore, it can be argued that no human technology has yet managed to function nearly as efficiently as living organisms. Therefore, the only logical conclusion to be drawn is that a successful imitation of nature is only possible when using the following principles as aspirational ideals (Biomimicry 3.8 2013):
1. Adapt to Changing Conditions
The first of Life’s Principles states that it is inevitable to modify behavior patterns, composition and appearance to ensure survival in changing conditions. Take for instance arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) that change their fur color from white in winter, to brown in summer in order to perfectly blend in with their surroundings to facilitate hunting all year around (Russell and Tumlison 1996).
2. Be Locally Attuned and Responsive
It is essential to be locally attuned and capable of compensating for potential short-comings of the ecosystem. A biological example of this is how the Namib Desert beetle (Stenocara gracilipes) manages to survive in an extremely arid climate by using fog as an alternative water source. The beetle’s bumpy back surface allows for the vapor to materialize as water droplets, which are then drawn to the mouth (Parker 2001).
3. Use Life-Friendly Chemistry
In Nature, a diverse assembly of producers, consumers and decomposers successfully evolved to create closed loops, constantly cycling matter. Thus, chemicals exist in quantities beneficial to all organisms. For instance, the nitrogen cycle ensures that nitrogen, which is vital for all life forms on earth as a component of amino ac, is available in adequate quantities. This is accomplished through fixation, converting gaseous nitrogen into a plant available form, assimilation, adsorption of nitrogen by plants, ammonification, through the death of an organism or excretion of feces, and finally nitrification, by conversion from ammonium to nitrate by microorganisms which is then reduced back into its gaseous form, completing the nitrogen cycle (Johnson et al. 2005).
4. Be Resource (Material and Energy) Efficient
While the objective of conserving resources such as minerals is a relatively new idea in the human world, nature has learned the importance of efficiency long ago. A prime example of energy efficiency in the natural world is passive energy recapture, a mechanism which allows the moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) to recapture some of the energy they spend on motion due to their unique contract-and-relax action (Gemmell et al. 2013).
5. Integrate Development with Growth
Ideal strategies promote both development and growth. Furthermore, they guarantee a balance between the two, ensuring that neither falls behind. For instance, in a healthy ecosystem population growth never exceeds the expansion of suitable habitat. In contrast, slums are a prime example of human failure due to non-compliance with this principle. While the population in some cities increased exponentially, develop-ment was not integrated leading to insufficient infrastructure to support the inhabit-ants (Wackernagel et al. 2002).
6. Evolve to survive
Due to natural selection only the best adapted organisms survive in an ecosystem. Therefore, all life on earth is constantly evolving. For instance, rat populations in Germany developed a resistance to the anticoagulant rodenticides warfarin, bromad-iolone, which allows them to consume five times the normally lethal dose without dying (Kohn et al. 2000). Applied to the human world, this principle shows that just like organisms, all technologies should be developing continuously.
2.4 Holistic Perspective on Cities
Over the course of evolution, from living as hunters and gatherers in competition with other animals, towards a modern society, where interaction with the wild has become superfluous for many individuals, humans have come to see themselves as increasingly independent from nature. Due to the spatial separation from the natural landscape, this exclusive perspective is perhaps most prevalent in cities, where more than half of the human population lives today (Grimm et al. 2008).
Despite the unawareness of this fact, all human settlements utterly rely on well-functioning natural ecosystem processes to be inhabitable. All services provided by nature such as fresh water supply, air purification, climate regulation, waste decomposition, and the flow of vital goods such as food undoubtedly constitute an inseparable relationship between artificial and natural infrastructure. Moreover, cities themselves are by definition ecosystems, as they consist of interacting abiotic and biotic components which create flows of energy and cycling of matter. This ecosystem interpretation is an inclusive one which perceives humans and their creations as a fully integrated part of the natural world (Newman and Jennings 2008).
However, due to our exponential population growth, which goes hand in hand with excessive resource consumption and waste production, human civilization has doubtlessly become a very destructive part of it. The exclusive and severely flawed mindset that humans are separated from nature resulted in the view of environmen-tal destruction as the obliteration of a self-contained object. It has become inevitable for humanity to turn away from environmental degradation, which is essentially self-destruction, and towards contributing to the continuation of life for a sustainable prosperity. Urban settlements, the centers of population density and all concomitant problems, offer the highest potential for the preservation of resources and remain-ing natural landscapes (Kinver 2015).
3 Mumbai’s Slums: Issues and Opportunities
While urbanization occurred rapidly all over the world in the past centuries, countries of the global South were particularly affected. Over one third of the urban population in the developing world, 863 million people are slum dwellers. Moreover, 40% of the population in developing countries are experiencing inadequate housing, malnutrition, insufficient infrastructure and lack of education and health services. Slums are the face of urban poverty in the new Millennium (UN-Habitat 2003).
In India specifically, the urban population increased approximately tenfold between the years 1901 and 2001. The 400 largest cities are home to over 68% of India’s 1.2 billion, constantly attracting more people from rural areas due to diverse employment opportunities, despite the fact that physical infrastructure is highly inadequate. As a result, the quality of life and the environmental conditions in cities have deteriorated rapidly due to migration from rural areas, increasing the gap between the demand and supply of infrastructure (Registrar General of India 2001).
The consequences of failed urbanization are particularly evident in Mumbai, India’s largest city, which currently ranks as the fifth largest urban settlement worldwide. Slums are a direct result of the over-strained infrastructure increasingly struggling to support its population, which increased by 400% in the past forty years, exceeding the 15 million mark (United Nations 1996). 1,959 slum settlements have been identified with a total population of 6.25 million, forming 54% of Mumbai’s total population (Census of India 2001). In addition to their enormous number, the urban poor occupy just 3.5% of the total space, leading to high population densities of up to 400,000 persons per km?? in some of the slum enclaves (Mahadevia et al. 2005). A vicious cycle emerged out of these demographic developments, as increasing destruction of the environment entailed even more overburdening of the infrastructural systems. The resulting shortcomings concerning water, waste and energy management and air pollution control will be discussed in more detail in the following chapter.
3.1 Insufficient Water Management Infrastructure
Infrastructural underdevelopment and mismanagement pose severe threats to public health and the local ecosystem. Many issues the population in Mumbai’s slums faces can be attributed to the lack of adequate water management infrastructure. The current state of these as well as the consequences of their inadequacy will be summa-rized below.
3.1.1 Lack of Water Supply
The consequences of insufficient water supply and a lack of sanitary facilities is an insistent example of the strong linkage between living environmental conditions and human health issues. The situation in Mumbai is devastating: currently the 11.48 million population is supplied with 3,000 million liters of water per day, thus meeting less than two thirds of the estimated demand (Bombay Municipal Corporation 2000). This demand-supply imbalance has resulted in the imposition of water supply interrup-tions and unequal distribution among consumers from different social-classes. By comparison to the 135 liters per capita and day for those living in privately owned houses, the urban poor living in slums are apportioned only 45 liters on average, including water consumed by factories and other industrial structures in the slums (Karn and Harda 2002).
3.1.2 Lack of Sewerage Coverage
Concerning sewerage coverage, it is estimated that only 45% of Mumbai’s population is connected. Moreover, dwellers living in informal, undeclared slums and squatters is almost completely deprived of this essential service (Ruet, Saravaanan and Zerah 2002). In terms of wastewater collection and treatment, despite the fact that almost 90% of the 2456 million liters of wastewater per day are being collected, only 109 go through secondary treatment while the remaining 2101 million liters of the severely contaminated sewage water go directly into the ocean or local rivers and creeks (CPBC 1997).
Furthermore, looking at means of human waste disposal, nearly the entire slum population in Mumbai relies on the few public toilets and is often forced to practice open defecation. Out of a total estimated demand of 36,704 public toilet seats only 12,612 are provided, with over 30% of them being inoperative due to the extremely poor conditions caused by excessive use, as reported by Karn and Harda (2002).
The same study revealed that over 90% of sewage produced by municipal councils and half of sewage produced by municipal corporations are not sufficiently treated. 75 per cent of Sewage Treatment Plants are lacking operational approvals due to inadequate facilities, while the few that have these are significantly overstrained (Karn and Harda 2002).
3.1.3 Consequences for Humans and Environment
The direct consequences of these immense infrastructural shortcomings are disas-trous. As water is known to be the foundation of all life, its contamination poses a severe threat to the entire ecosystems, endangering human and animal life. Large-scale testing of water samples from various creeks and rivers in Mumbai revealed that the water quality has deteriorated significantly between the years 2006 and 2007 at 70% of all examined locations. Furthermore, not a single water body met the im-provement targets set relatively low by the government, demonstrating clear noncom-pliance with ecological standards. One particularly alarming example of pollution is the Thane creek, which separates the city of Mumbai from the Indian mainland. Here the deterioration has been most severe with a fivefold increase of pollution levels between 2006 and 2007, posing a serious danger to marine animals and microorgan-isms (Gandy 2008).
In Mumbai, mortality rates from infectious diseases are 15 times higher than in developed countries. Death rates from childhood diseases such as diphtheria and polio are 33 times as high, while malaria occurs almost exclusively in the global south. Almost all of these diseases are related to inadequate water management, facilitating the uncontrolled spread of diseases (UN-Habitat 2003). Regarding Mumbai’s slums, it is estimated that water-borne diseases account for over one third of all deaths (Karn and Harda 2002).
3.2 Solid Waste Mismanagement
Waste is undeniably a common by-product of human activity, and its environmen-tally friendly collection and disposal require considerable effort. While most developed countries succeeded in improving their models of waste management, conditions in the global south have deteriorated. In India, the amount of solid waste produced by cities increased eightfold since the early 1950’s. In the case of Mumbai specifically, the increase of solid waste outpaced the population growth. Waste production increased by 41% in ten years, amounting to over 6000 tons per day in 2001, while the population grew by a mere 20% over the same period. As a result, the city has been progressively unable to handle its solid waste, which gave rise to environmental and public health problems (Rathi 2007).
3.2.1 Insufficient Waste Collection
Waste collection efficiency is known to differ greatly amongst localities in Mumbai, with slums being by far the least serviced areas. This is due to the fact that slums are not considered to be rightful recipients of formal waste collection services by the local government. Fortunately, the waste management system is beginning to be extended to regularized slums that are recognized officially under the census. Nonetheless, the city government’s neglect of waste collection issues in slums harms the entire popula-tion’s health as well as the environment. As a matter of fact, the theoretic borders between the informal and formal settlements do not prevent the spread of pollutants and disease caused by insufficient waste collection (Davis 2003).
Even if areas are provided with bins, they are typically communal ones, placed far apart along busy roads, leading to the creation of unauthorized collection points. The collection efficiency of Mumbai overall is only about 70%, leaving 30% of waste on the streets and in the creeks of the city. It is estimated that the efficiency of waste collection in slums is significantly lower (Sharholy et al. 2007).
3.2.2 Insufficient Waste Disposal
The problems, however, continue after collection when the waste is transported and disposed of, as reported by Davis (2003). It is estimated that over 90% of solid waste in cities are disposed of incautiously in open dumping grounds and landfills, posing severe threats to the environment and human health. While dumping grounds are normally found in the outskirts, far from human settlements and water bodies to prevent harm, in Mumbai four landfills are located next to densely populated areas, creeks with sensitive mangroves, and the ocean. Another issue of the grounds is that they are only usable for 30 years, meaning that the largest dump, Deonar, has only 5 years of use left, with no alternative site allocated yet.
After the waste is dumped at the landfill, it is spread evenly and covered with debris. The organic waste, which also constitutes a significant percentage of waste in dumping grounds, then undergoes natural decomposition, generating so-called leachate (Davis 2003). This fluid poses severe threats to the environment and public health and will be discussed further, among other hazards, in the next chapter.
3.2.3 Consequences for Humans and Environment
The consequences of solid waste mismanagement are one of the major problems for public health and environment alike in Mumbai. Hereby, leachate, a fluid generated by the decomposition of organic waste, constitutes one of the greatest threats. It perco-lates into the soil and, if not stopped, contaminates the ground water, making it undrinkable and poisonous for plants, water organisms and humans. Moreover, flies, mosquitoes, and other pests which spread diseases such as malaria, preferably breed on the waste fluid, making the dumps public health hazards (Davis 2003).
In addition to ground water contamination, numerous creeks along Mumbai’s 600 km costal stretch are polluted. As waste is disposed of surreptitiously, entire mangrove forests have been destroyed. Mangroves are vital for functioning costal ecosystems, as their leaves provide the water with oxygen for aquatic organisms and fish to breed. Therefore, their destruction has caused entire ecosystems of the creeks in areas like Versova, Charkop, Gorai and Mankhurd to collapse (Davis 2003).
3.3 Imbalance of Energy Supply and Demand
According to the UN, about 1.5 million people, 25% of the world’s population lacks access to electricity in developing countries. With the world’s population growing at an explosive rate, energy infrastructure struggles to keep up with demographic developments, leading to immense structural deficits and a con-stantly widening gap between demand and supply in countries like India (Modi et al. 2006).
3.3.1 Energy Supply in Slums
It is estimated that 800 million people in south Asia alone are deprived of energy supply. Although many of those live in outlying, rural areas, far from electricity generators, an increasing number is believed to live in slums. 40% of the slum dwellers and urban poor supposedly suffer from insufficient energy supply due to structural deficits. In India specifically, the supply of electricity has grown by five per cent yearly, while demand exceeded the supply by more than seven per cent. Furthermore, although the average energy consumption per capita in India is very low at 400 kilograms of oil equivalent, the poor have access to a mere 50 kgoe on average (Modi et al. 2006)
The US Agency for International Development (2006) posits that due to the inadequacy and costliness of legal energy services, an increasing percentage of electricity demand is met through thievery, with half of all households in Mumbai obtaining energy illegally. Apart from the issue of insufficient supply, India generates over two thirds from thermal plants powered by non-renewable fuels such as coal, gas or oil, while only a small share of five per cent is provided by renewable energy (USAID 2006).
3.3.2 Energy Demand in Slums
As mentioned previously, the demand for energy in India grew rapidly as the popula-tion increased, exceeding supply by over seven per cent. Concerning slums, the fact that energy is often obtained illegally by ‘tapping off’ through illegal connections, ignoring the safety hazard of substandard, uninsulated wires, demonstrates the pressing desire of the urban poor to benefit from electricity. This strong demand stems chiefly from the necessity of energy for the improvement of business, home and community life (Modi et al. 2006).
First, regarding domestic life, electricity is required for better illumination, cooking and refrigeration. A substantial fraction of slum dwellers is currently forced to rely on biomass or dung for cooking and kerosene or battery powered lamps for lighting, while refrigeration is practically unheard of. (Modi et al. 2006).
From an economic perspective, adequate power supply is a necessity for the estab-lishment of new as well as the scaling up of already existing businesses (Modi et al. 2006). Therefore, the desire for safe and adequately paid work evident in slums where only a third of the population is employed is strongly tied to the demand for energy which is essential for the creation of jobs (Risbud 2003).
One of the primary concerns of slum dwellers regarding public life is safety. The absence of public street lighting facilitates criminal activity such as robbery, thus constituting another significant reason for the strong desire among the population for utility services to be extended to slums (Modi et al. 2006).
3.3.3 Consequences of Insufficient Energy Supply
The strong ties between the expansion of energy services and poverty reduction simultaneously signify that the lack of such services has serious adverse effects on the advancement of the slum community and the environment (Modi et al. 2006).
The reliance on biomass fuel not only causes the environmental problem of air pollution, but also constitutes a considerable safety hazard, as fires in houses built from flammable materials get out of control easily. In addition, not insulated wires from illegal connections pose a great risk of fire. In Mumbai, fires with energy related cause claim numerous victims and destroy large areas of slums annually. While causality figures are currently not available, a survey revealed that as much as eight per cent of slum dwellers in Mumbai have lost their home in a slum fire (Subbaraman et al. 2014).
3.4 Inadequate Air Pollution Control
In the following, the sources of air pollution in Mumbai, to some of which allusion has already been made, as well as its consequences will be briefly summarized. Hereby it is necessary to underline that all previously mentioned issues in Mumbai’s slums contribute to the problem of air pollution.
3.4.1 Air Pollution Exposure
Air quality in Mumbai, and even more so in Mumbai’s slums, is alarmingly low. One way to measure air pollution is the assessment of the concentration of Respirable Particulate Matter (RSPM), one of the most dangerous contaminants as they provoke breathing problems similar to those caused by excessive smoking. After exceeding the prescribed limit of 60 ??g/m?? continuously for the past ten years, RSMP levels reached 202 ??g/m?? in 2008 according to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (2009). A comparison to the RSPM of a cigarette, which emits 2 ??g/m?? under laboratory conditions, implies that city dwellers inhale the equivalent of 100 cigarettes every day (Sudhir and Ki-Hyun 2010).
Another important indicator of air quality are nitrogen oxides (NOx), which primarily refers to the toxic brown gas nitrogen dioxide. Due to its contribution to global warming and negative health impact, the reduction of NOx emission is deemed to be particularly crucial, thus reinforcing the urgency of lowering NOx levels in Mumbai. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1998).
The increase of NOx and RSMP levels from 2005 to 2008 and the prescribed national air quality standards, indicated by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (2009), are depicted in figure 4.
Another approach to the assessment of air pollutants is the Air Quality Index (AQI), which incorporates various pollutants and measures the concentration the population of an area is exposed to per hour, thereby indicating the risk of respiratory diseases. By this measurement, air pollution exposure in slums is approximately 16 ??gh m?? compared to less than half in more affluent areas, at 6 ??gh m??. Moreover, studies of exposure burden calculated as a product of population and daily exposure revealed that the slum population, which constitutes half of the population, bears 80% of the exposure burden (Srivastava and Kumar 2001).
3.4.2 Sources of Air Pollution
The National Summary Report (2010) of the Central Pollution Control Board conducted a comprehensive study of air quality in Indian cities. Its result with regard to Mumbai will be summarized in the following.
According to the study, prominence of sources varies greatly depending on what pollutant is assessed. Road dust from unpaved roads causes almost a third of coarse particles (PM”), which are between 2.5 and 10 micrometers small. Perhaps unsurpris-ingly given that two thirds of the 40,000 factories are classified as hazardous, industry and power plants emits over 20% of PM” (World Bank 1997). Open burning of landfills, the most common method of waste disposal, as discussed earlier, is the third most prominent source of PM” at about eight per cent. Regarding nitrogen oxides (NOx), industrial activities account for roughly half of all air pollution, area sources for 40% and vehicles for the remaining 10%. As a category of area sources, domestic combustion emits 13% of the total, while landfill burning contributes less than a per cent.
3.4.3 Public Health Impact
The growing impact of air pollution poses a severe danger to the environment as well as the citizens of Mumbai, already noticeable in the very high incidence of chronic respiratory problems (World Bank 1997). Hereby, particulate pollutants like RSPM and PM” are estimated to be the deadliest form of air pollution, as their small size allows them to penetrate deep into the lungs, causing permanent mutations of genetic material, heart attacks, and even death (US EPA 2010). A study conducted in nine European countries proves this claim by revealing that in fact no level of particulate matter is safe, and that with increase of 10 ??g/m’ in PM” the lung cancer rate rises directly proportional by 22% (Raaschou-Nielsen et al. 2013). These numbers are all the more alarming when conveyed to Mumbai, where the level of air pollution is several times higher than in the most polluted European cities. As a result of the disastrous air quality, it is estimated that over 900.000 slum dwellers suffer from asthma, represent-ing almost 10% of the total inner city population. In addition, 220.000 cases of bronchi-tis in children, primarily in slums, were reported (Srivastava and Kumar 2001).
4 A Biomimetic Approach to Slum Redevelopment
Mumbai’s infrastructure, much like most of today’s major infrastructural systems, was designed by very limited human insight and currently fails to encapsulate the compre-hensive information provided by nature’s genius. Due to the false presumption of human-designed systems being superior, ingrained since the Industrial Revolution, the impact of this incorrect perception was not recognized as a menace to humanity until the effects of environmental pollution and structural deficits lead to serious socioeco-nomic crisis (Biggs at al. 2008).
Mumbai’s slums are a particularly salient example of solely man-made systems’ incapability to deliver their intended functions in the face of today’s challenges, as described in detail in the previous chapter. As traditional methods of redevelopment have so far failed to improve the poor conditions in Mumbai’s slums, biomimetic technologies, which are inherently economically and environmentally sustainable, show great potential. Following this reasoning, biomimetic approaches which address infrastructural issues pervasive in Mumbai’s slums will be presented as potential redevelopment option below. For the purpose of this paper, the focus hereby will be on water, energy and waste management infrastructure and the active improvement of air quality by applying biomimetic technologies.
4.1 Bimimicry in Water Management Infrastructure
Appalling conditions like those in the slums of Mumbai undoubtedly necessitate innovative technologies for the sourcing and treatment of water. Many successes in this field reached this goal by looking at nature through biomimicry for inspiration, and could improve the health condition of slum dwellers while simultaneously alleviating environmental issues. Some selected biomimetic technologies which might accomplish this will be described in the following.
4.1.1 Biomimicry in Fresh Water Sourcing
The decreasing availability of clean water, a good essential to human and all other life, poses one of the most critical challenges facing 21st Century society, in which one-fifth of the world’s population is living in areas where water is in short supply (United Nations). In Mumbai, specifically, lack of drinking water supply is an especially burdensome problem, responsible for thousands of deaths due to water-borne diseases and polluted drinking water, as discussed in chapter 3.1.2.
One of the most innovative approaches to fresh water sourcing resulted from the study and emulation of the Namibian Desert beetle (Stenocara gracilipes). The beetle is found in extremely arid deserts, where less than one inch of rainfall per year is the norm. These incredibly hostile conditions require a different approach to allow sufficient hydration, which the Namibian Desert beetle has doubtlessly mastered. It does so by utilizing the frequent morning fog, which is the only reliable water source in the desert. The Stenocara beetle buries itself under the ground during the heat of the day in order to maintain a relatively cool temperature until the night. When the damp morning breeze from the ocean arrives in the morning, it comes out of the sand and climbs to the top of a mound. It positions itself with its body angled at 45??, its head facing upwind, and its hard, bumpy outer wings spread against the humid breeze. Tiny water droplets, only 15 to 20 ??m in diameter, from the fog condense on its wings where they stick to hydrophilic bumps, surrounded by waxy, hydrophobic, water repelling channels. The droplets flatten as they touch the hydrophilic protuberances, creating a larger surface for other droplets to attach to and preventing them from being blown away by wind. Accumulation continues until the droplet grows to roughly 5 mm in diameter; at that point the beetle tilts its back and the droplets run down the hydrophobic channels and directly into its awaiting mouth. (Parker et al. 2001).
Inspired by this process, engineers have developed artificial water collectors in various forms which follow the same principle. NBD Nano, a start-up company of four recent college graduates have developed a selffilling water bottle and aspire to improve drinking water availability in developing countries with their inventions (Owano 2012). This technology could alleviate the issue of contaminated drinking water and push back water-borne diseases in slums, as Mumbai’s humid climate is likely to allow for the harvesting of the maximum amount of three liters per hour, the bottle is capable of. Moreover, the same technology could potentially be integrated into buildings for more efficient, large-scale application.
Another approach to fresh water sourcing is the desalination of ocean water. As only 2.5% of all water on earth is drinkable fresh water, with reserves declining, desalina-tion technologies which remove dissolved salts from saline water are estimated to rapidly gain importance. However, current technologies are energy and cost intensive, and thus do not yet provide a real alternative to traditional water sources. Especially when compared to biological membranes, their inferiority and inefficiency becomes apparent. (Kaufman and Freger 2011).
Therefore, scientists have sought to accomplish a similarly fast and selective water transport as found in cell membranes by imitating their design, with considerable success. Biomimetic membranes for water purification have proved to enable higher salt rejection and a faster water flow at significantly lower driving pressures than traditional, non-biomimetic membranes, reducing the otherwise high cost of desalina-tion. Applied on a larger scale, it is estimated that biomimetic membranes would cost up to 88% less than currently implemented methods, representing potential savings of about $ 1.5 million p.a. for a desalination plant with a capacity of 100 ML/day. These reduction of cost make this biomimetic method of fresh water sourcing especially promising for Mumbai, which must take economic aspects into account as well. Moreover, the millions of cubic meters of ocean water surrounding the coastal city of Mumbai provide the ideal conditions for desalination (Rempe 2011).
4.1.2 Biomimicry in Waste Water Treatment
Regarding the treatment of sewage water, another serious shortcoming in Mumbai’s slums, riparian forests along stream sides which act as natural filters by absorbing sediments and transforming excess nutrients and other pollutants. For instance, up to 90% of nitrogen and up to 50% of phosphorus are removed (Klapproth et al. 2009).
Australian scientists have sought to imitate the complex interaction of organic and inorganic compounds responsible for the water purification in the form of a more efficient, biomimetic sewage treatment system. The result of their observations is a tank containing an ecosystem of beetles, worms and microbes which transfer solid waste into humus that is subsequently used to filter wastewater. Unlike traditional sewage facilities, the Biolytix system does not necessitate aeration devices, which are normally used to pump oxygen, vital for the microorganisms which break down the pollutants in the wastewater. Therefore, by letting a natural ecosystem purify sewage water, the operating energy cost is reduced by over 90%. Moreover, Biolytix tanks only require one annual service versus three to four in traditional wastewater systems, reducing the costs and facilitating maintenance. Concerning the installation of Biolytix, initial investment is low as well, with a cost reduction of 50% in comparison to typical gravity sewerage systems (Fermanian Business and Economic Institute 2010).
With regard to the suitability of Biolytix for Mumbai’s slums, it can be noted that the construction of an adequate traditional sewer system is estimated to be difficult, due to ocean water corroding metal pipes and the enormous effort and cost it would entail in such densely populated areas. Therefore, the fact that the Biolytix system can be installed on site and function decentralized without the need for a highly complex system of pipes is an additional advantage (FBEI 2010). Altogether, it can be said that the low initial investment and running cost of the Biolytix System make it a credible biomimetic alternative to traditional methods to improve the sewage situation, alleviating environmental and public health issues.
4.2 Biomimicry in Solid Waste Management
While the adaptation of specific biomimetic technologies would presumably prove satisfactory in the fields of water and energy infrastructure redevelopment as well as air pollution control, the failed system surrounding the production and disposal of waste necessitates a complete revolution, as demonstrated by the poor conditions it caused in Mumbai’s slums.
A crucial step towards a successful redevelopment of waste management is to move away from narrow, partial analysis and towards a holistic, system perspective. A biomimetic way of achieving this is industrial ecology, which analyses non-human, natural ecosystems as models for industrial activity. Instead of viewing industrial firms and enterprises as the main destructors of the environment, their potential to act as agents for environmental improvement is recognized. Industrial activity is brought out of isolation and placed in the context of its surrounding, larger ecosystems. Industrial ecology, in a nutshell, endeavors to unite industry, which possesses immense techno-logical expertise, highly valuable for the environmentally informed production of goods and design of processes, and the genius of natural ecosystems to achieve resilience and sustainability (Ayres R. U. and Ayres L. 2002).
Benyus (2002) sees one of the primary factors which differentiates the human economy and the natural ecosystem in the fact, that in nature, the augmentation of biomass is proportional to the creation of more recycling loops, in order to prevent the system from collapsing on itself. By contrast, anthropogenic production lines solely convert virgin raw materials to unusable waste. As resources are limited and will be exhausted eventually, she identifies an urgent need to transform the current cradle-to-grave system to an industrial ecosystem and a zero waste economy by mimicking the way natural systems’ reuse of all materials.
In accordance with the principle of industrial ecology, Benyus (2002) advocates an approach which prefers the creation of comparatively larger amounts of ‘wanted waste’ over the production of less, but unusable waste which must be burned or landfilled. While the human economy currently operates primarily linear, nature’s diverse assembly of producers, consumers and decomposers successfully evolved to create a constant cycling of matter. Therefore, the current system of producers and consumers must be supplemented with a sufficient amount of composers to close the cycle and ultimately create a system where waste does not exist.
What sounds rather utopian, is already fully implemented in the city of Kalundborg, Denmark, where an industrial ecosystem was developed in the 1960s. Enterprises cooperate by buying and selling waste products from and to each other forming a closed cycle of industrial production. The local thermal power plant pumps its waste steam to the nearby refinery and a pharmaceutical plant, where the slightly lower heat sufficiently powers their engines. Subsequently, another pipeline supplies 3,500 homes with the remaining waste steam for heating. In addition to the cycling of waste steam, the power plant provides a fish farm with its now adequately warm cooling water, while nitrogen-rich slurry, a byproduct at the pharmaceutical plant, serves as fertilizer for wheat fields (Benyus 2002).
Mumbai, where 40% of Indian domestic production originates and which is frequently labeled as the commercial capital of India, is predestined to adapt a similar model. In the slums specifically, several waste producing enterprises, such as the large chemi-cals and pharmaceutical industry, thermal power plants, and basic engineering and metal producers are located in immediate proximity (Risbud 2003). Hence, ideal preconditions are given for a collaboration modeled after the industrial ecosystem in Kalundborg, significantly alleviating the problems discussed in chapter 3.3.
4.3 Biomimicry in Energy Infrastructure Systems
The improvement of Mumbai’s energy infrastructure has an especially high priority, as it serves as a gateway for further socioeconomic developments (Modi et al. 2006). In order to successfully develop a sufficient energy infrastructure system, it is crucial to establish a balance between the demand and supply of energy by increasing productiv-ity and usage efficiency simultaneously.
Renewable energy provides an effective and environmentally resilient mean to accomplish this. In recent years, engineers have gone even further by not only imitating nature’s idea of renewable energy, but also attempted to imitate natural structures in order to generate and consume electricity more efficiently. Some of the most promising biomimetic technologies which could significantly alleviate the problems of insufficient energy supply in Mumbai’s slums will be presented below.
4.3.1 Increasing Energy Efficiency
Before identifying methods to generate energy in accordance with nature, it is essential to identify ways to improve domestic and industrial energy efficiency, in order to reduce demand.
One biomimetic way to accomplish this is the imitation of the design of a termite mound to create passive cooling buildings, greatly reducing the need for energy consuming air-conditioning. Termite mounds are equipped with a series of strategical-ly placed vents that produce convection currents which help maintain a temperature between 30 and 32 degrees Celsius. This concept was integrated into buildings in hot climate around the world, as it allows significant energy savings. The most famous example is the Eastgate center in Harare, which is known for consuming less than a tenth of an equally sized conventional building, due to natural ventilation inspired by termite mounds being its primary cooling method (cf. Holbrook et al. 2010).
While the maintenance of a bearable temperature indoors might not appear to be the most pressing of issues faced by slum dwellers at first glance, a report released by the U.S. Agency for International Development (2006) lists fans as one of the priority uses of electricity in Indian slums. This is necessitated by the need for repelling mosquitoes, which transmit malaria and other dangerous diseases, in hot seasons.
4.3.2 Biomimetic Energy Generation
Concerning the improvement of energy generation and supply, the U.S. Agency for International Development (2006) supports the thesis that on-site distributed genera-tion in slums is more economically feasible than the expansion of traditional services would be. Renewable energy lends itself excellently to the implementation of distrib-uted power systems, as it can be easily generated modularly and decentralized, as the following examples of biomimetic technologies will demonstrate.
Contrary to human civilization which predominantly generates energy from non-renewable, ‘cradle-to-grave’ resources like fossil fuels, the primary source of energy in the natural world is sunlight. Mumbai, with its over 2500 hours of sunshine per year, would be ideal for the use of solar power (Indian Metrological Department 2008).
Attempts have been made to extract energy from this inexhaustible source using various methods including the photovoltaic panels as well as tracking systems that follow the sun’s course, mimicking the way the sunflower maximizes its energy generation (Riechers 2012). One of the nature’s most efficient means of energy production, photosynthesis, a process which involves the separation of water into hydrogen and oxygen atoms allowing for efficient harvesting and storage of solar energy, is deemed to be the most desirable to replicate. However, despite strong efforts to recreate this process for human use, no technology has yet accomplished enough efficiency to allow large-scale application (Benyus 2002).
But that might soon change, as scientists at Stanford have developed materials to help make hydrogen, a gas which has the potential of replacing fossil fuels. The process, again copied from plants, uses sunlight to induce a chemical reaction that creates the gas, which is derived from water and materializes to pure water again when burned as a fuel. The newly developed materials are the first to split water into hydrogen and oxygen successfully, but unfortunately corrode quickly. Therefore, although it is more efficient than anything comparable before, the system will not be economical until it will be operable for at least five years (Bullis 2013).
Another source of renewable energy is the ocean, as the waves are in constant motion which can be converted to electricity. Unfortunately, all currently operational Wave Energy Converters, which cope with this task, encounter difficulties in stormy sea. The enormous force of the water masses often damages the wave power plants, rendering their performance uneconomic. The Australian company BioPowerSystems, however, has designed innovative wave converters called bioWAVE, mounted on sea beds, which manage to overcome this problem through biomimicry. Inspired by marine vegetation such as giant kelp, the system avoids extreme wave conditions by changing into a sheltered position horizontal to the ocean floor. Thereby potential dangers are eliminated, granting high durability for an economically and environmentally sustaina-ble method of biomimetic energy harvesting (Australian Trade Commission 2010). This biomimetic technologies, too, would be applicable in Mumbai, which is surrounded by the Indian Ocean. In fact, the location is ideal for wave energy generation, as the problem of storage and transportation of electricity would be eliminated with such a large consumer right at the coast.
Increasing the efficiency of already common renewable energy technologies is another major point of interest, capable of improving living and environmental conditions in Mumbai’s slums, which could be accomplished by looking at nature as a measure, model, and mentor.
An example where the application of biomimetic principles significantly increased efficiency was the development of more efficient aero-dynamic wind turbines, inspired by the fins of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). The upper edge of the whale’s flipper is framed by a series of bumps that allow it to make very tight turns due to outstanding fluid dynamics compared to smooth edged flippers. Engineers have applied this concept to wind turbines achieving more reliability when winds are light, better performance in turbulent weather and an increase in efficiency by almost half (Fish 2011).
Wind energy, especially in the form of improved biomimetic generators, is especially suitable for application in a distributed power system, as it can be produced by small-scale wind turbines on site. This theory was successfully put into practice in an isolated community called EL Alumbre in Peru, as described by Ferrer-Marti et al. (2010). As the dispersed nature of El Alumbre prohibited the extension of the general electrical grid to supply its population, a micro electrification system served as an excellent alternative. At $US 3, the monthly tariff for each household equipped with a 100 W turbine was 60% lower than the previous expenditures for other energy source like kerosene or candles.
Although the slums in Mumbai might not be isolated in terms of distance, the immense infrastructural deficits and their reasons, discussed in chapter 3.3, similarly hinder the expansion of traditional grid systems. Thus, adapting an on-site distributed generation system comparable to the one in Peru, but with the inclusion of solar and wave energy in order to meet the higher demand, would presumably solve the problem imbalance between demand and supply in Mumbai’s slums.
4.4 Biomimetic Air Quality Improvement
Although the biomimetic technologies addressing problems of infrastructure misman-agement, presented above, would certainly entail a significant improvement of air quality, the extent of air pollution in Mumbai’s slums would presumably require active air purification. Two methods of achieving this, bioremediation which exploits micro-organisms in order to reduce environmental pollution, and its biomimetic successor, an imitation of these processes imbedded in cement, will be discussed in the following.
4.4.1 Bioremediation of Air Pollution
Bioremediation is an application of biotechnology which describes the process of exploiting biological agents to reduce the environmental burden of toxins caused by human activity. Hereby, pollutants serve microorganisms, which are used primarily in bioremediation, as nutrients and energy source (Srivastava and Kumar 2011).
While this biological treatment process has found wide-scale application in solid waste and sewage water treatments for centuries, efforts devoted to the control of air pollution are relatively new. Stringent regulations of emissions have forced industries around the world to develop expensive technologies like carbon adsorption. The need for more efficient and cost-effective alternatives to these traditional methods has led to the development of biochemical processes similar to those employed in solid waste and waste water treatment. Biofiltration, one of those innovative technologies, relies on microbial reactions for the transformation of toxic pollutants into environmentally harmless substances (Devinny, Deshusses & Webster 1998).
Despite sounding good in theory, biofiltration would presumably be subject to major constraints with regard to its application in slums. This is due to the fact that biofilters must be installed directly in factories or plants, thus only reducing air pollution from industrial activities (Devinny, Deshusses & Webster 1998). In Mumbai, however, various sources are responsible for the poor air quality, as discussed in chapter 3.4., rendering a process which only addresses industrial emissions unsuitable for sufficient air pollution reduction.
4.4.2 Biomimetic Cement for Active Air Pollution Reduction
Unlike biofiltration, the biomimetic cement does not directly employ microbes, but instead mimics their ability to store or dispose of toxic substances by modifying their oxidation state through catalysis. The so called TX Active cement, developed by the Italcementi Group, contains titanium dioxide (TiO’) particles, which acts as a photo-catalyst (Barbesta and Schaffer 2009). When exposed to sunlight, the titanium dioxide catalyzes the transformation of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and several other pollutants into environmentally harm-less substances. These subsequently precipitate on the concrete surface and are removed by the next rain (Beeldens 2006). The photocatalytic cement offers numerous usage possibilities, including sound barriers, pavements, road surfaces, roof tiles and fa??ade elements on houses. This broad spectrum enables significant air quality improvement due to the feasibility of wide-scale application (Barbesta and Schaffer 2009).
Concerning the potential for implementation in Mumbai’s slums, it is interesting to note that calculations based on results from studies conducted in Italian urban areas, suggest that photocatalytic cement is most efficient in highly polluted air. Further-more, these prediction estimate that the resurfacing of only 15% of roads and houses in heavily polluted cities would lead to an air quality improvement of 50% (Barbesta and Schaffer 2009).
Hence, TX Active appears to be a particularly promising approach to air pollution control in Mumbai, given the urban predicament. Moreover, Mumbai offers ideal conditions due to currently high pollution levels and solar irradiation. An additional benefit of surfacing the roads with photocatalytic cement, especially in slums, would presumably be that the air pollution from dusty, presently unpaved roads would be significantly mitigated.
The objective of this thesis was the study and analysis of biomimicry as a potential tool for slum redevelopment, focusing on the identification and evaluation of biomimetic designs capable of potentially alleviating issues pervasive in Mumbai’s slums.
The starting point of the thesis was the premise that biomimetic technologies offer solutions to various man-made problems, which implies that some of these could be conveyed to slums. By looking at nature as a measure, model, and mentor it was established that human innovation should follow the overarching principles found in all forms of life on earth, which emphasize the importance of maxims like the integration of development with growth and resource efficiency. The necessity of acknowledging that there is no partition separating the human from the natural world was stressed, rendering the paradigm shift towards sustainability an obligation/inevitable. Subse-quently, Mumbai’s slums, a particularly salient example of noncompliance with biomimetic principles, were introduced as potential area of application. Structural deficits regarding water, waste and energy infrastructure as well as poor air pollution control and their impact on public health and environment were analyzed in order to validate areas of greatest needs.
From the scientific literature research that has been carried out, suitable solutions to each of the previously identified issues were submitted and evaluated in the light of the human and physical geographical context of Mumbai’s slums. For instance, the redevelopment of waste management in accordance with the emulation of closed loops found in natural ecosystems was proposed. The concept, already implemented in Kalundborg, Sweden, enables the creation of a no waste system, as the waste of one industry serves as the fuel of another, assembling closed loop cycling of matter. This approach was deemed to be exceptionally promising for Mumbai’s slums, as a vast amount of waste-intensive industries are located in close proximity. Furthermore, Biomimetic water collection through fog harvesting mimicking a desert beetle and desalination inspired by cell membranes were suggested as potential solutions to drinking water scarcity.
Based on the results, it can be concluded that biomimicry offers a wide range of suitable solutions to infrastructural and air pollution control issues, prevalent in Mumbai’s slums, of which some have been presented, without claiming to be exhaus-tive. Moreover, further research on biomimetic technologies conveyed to slum redevelopment would be desirable and necessary, as a particular urgency to alleviate man-made problems is evident there.
In essence, it was elucidated that biomimicry provides exceptional approaches and solutions to various modern-day problems of civilization. Placed in a wider context, the conscious emulation of nature’s genius has considerable potential to effect the paradigm shift towards sustainability, which has become inevitable, as the current issues in Mumbai’s slums clearly indicate. Only the acknowledgement of the fact that protection of self and protection of the planet are analogous, entailing the refrain from environmental degradation, can lead to long-term prosperity, as the hypothetical application of biomimicry in Mumbai’s slums demonstrated.
- Subject area(s): Science essays
- Number of words: 8291
This chapter aims at defining the scientific field and objectives of biomimicry, including its proposal of viewing nature as a model, measure and mentor. Furthermore, the overarching principles found in all forms of life will be elucidated. Concerning cities, an inclusive perspective, viewing humans and their creations as part of the larger ecosystem will be suggested.
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