According to UN-Habitat, “cities account for 78% of global energy consumption and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, making a significant contribution to climate change.”
They are also among the first victims of its effects, in ecological, economic and social terms.
The emerging discipline of biomimicry offers a way of redesigning the city and regional areas with and through nature, drawing inspiration from the principles of living things.
Can humanity draw on nature for ideas to help it face the disasters that threaten it?
The scientists, researchers, engineers, politicians, entrepreneurs, ecologists, philosophers, sociologists and athletes who gathered on Tuesday, September 7, 2021 in Marseille for the sixth edition of Biomim’expo – an event organised on the fringes of the world congress of the International Union for Nature Conservancy (IUCN) – have no doubts on this score, and their optimism is contagious.
“Nature is a remarkably efficient engineer,” notes Julien Dalle, a project manager in ecological engineering at Seaboost (an Egis subsidiary dedicated to maritime structures). “The solutions are right there, before our eyes,” agrees Alain Renaudin, the event’s founder and organiser, and chairman of the NewCorp Conseil innovation agency.
Biomimicry (which means “imitation of the living”) is not a new idea. “Take your lessons from nature, for that is where our future lies,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci as long ago as the 16th century.
Promoted internationally by Janine Benyus and her book “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature” (1997), in France by the creation in Senlis, in 2015, of a European Center for Studies and Expertise in Biomimicry (CEEBIOS), the concept has been defined since 2015 by the ISO TC 18458 standard. “Biomimicry: philosophy and interdisciplinary conceptual approaches taking nature as a model in order to meet the challenges of sustainable development (social, environmental, economic).”
It is an invitation to change our perspective on the living world that surrounds us and to draw inspiration from its forms and materials, the manufacturing processes found in living beings, the interactions that species develop between them, and the general functioning of natural ecosystems (the principles of bio-inspiration in the broad sense), without reproducing them identically. The integration of its technologies, know-how and processes – perfected and tested by 3.8 billion years of evolution and adaptation – into human systems would help us find better ways of living together, and of preserving or even repairing our ecosystems.
Let’s take an alternative look at some insects that are often thought of as “pests”. Aren’t the termites that devour our woods in fact extremely talented architects and workers? Their termite mounds, with an ideal temperature of around 21 °C all year round when outside temperatures can exceed 40 °C, thanks to a natural ascending ventilation system combined with a nocturnal pass-through ventilation system, have served as models for buildings that set a benchmark: the Eastgate Center by Mick Pearce in Harare (Zimbabwe) and the Epiphany Church by Nicolas Vernoux-Thélot in Nianing (Senegal). Ants and their communication and route optimization strategies have inspired the algorithms of our GPS systems, etc.
“The database is gigantic,” enthuses CEEBIOS CEO Kalina Raskin, who worked with the National Museum of Natural History in March 2020 to initiate an ambitious research program to extract information from the 70 million preserved specimens in its basements and make them accessible to innovation and research via a platform.
In addition to offering concrete solutions, nature relies on sustainable development specifications: the living world is economical in terms of energy and resources, manufactures at moderate temperature and pressure, operates in short chains, does not produce waste, and – contrary to popular belief – promotes collaboration rather than competition. When applied to architecture, town planning, transport or agriculture, biomimicry could help meet the objectives set by the Paris Agreement and current requirements.
“But we have to go faster,” warns Bruno David, director of the Museum. The sixth report of the IPCC, published on August 9, 2021, shows that global warming is accelerating faster than expected, and that humanity is facing “unprecedented” disasters.
A helpful approach is to “Copy from the great and ever-open book of nature,” as advised by the architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), father of Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral, while at the same time affording us the great joy of a sense of wonder.
Preserving the environment without sacrificing research, economic growth and employment, or the benefits offered by new technologies: the challenge facing our local communities is considerable.
“Living things – and biomimicry – can help us to think about how local communities can become more resistant to crises, and water crises in particular,” explains Kalina Raskin, CEO of CEEBIOS. “Technology is necessary, but certainly not sufficient, to enable us to face what lies ahead. An understanding of living things, the structure of biological systems and nature’s specifications provides a source of inspiration to go beyond technology and build a much more sober society with consumption patterns that probably differ from what we have today”
Because it turns out that “at the intersection of science, ecology and philosophy”, as explained by Alain Renaudin, Chairman of the NewCorp Conseil innovation agency, a growing number of regions are interested in new biomimicry developments: Nouvelle-Aquitaine, since 2015, and more recently the Sud and Hauts de France regions. With many companies and researchers becoming interested in this area, an ecosystem is gradually forming around this theme.
Solutions that combine technology and ecology to fight the effects of climate change
To help local communities limit the effects of climate change, Julien Dalle – project manager in ecological engineering at Seaboost – suggests comparing the solutions that have been implemented there with those offered by nature. For example, to protect their coasts from erosion, many coastal cities like Amsterdam are building dykes. “But a dyke comes at a cost,” he explains. “It does not adjust its height in response to wave height. It disrupts the ecosystem. Nature, on the other hand, produces corals, mangroves and seagrass beds, which have a fantastic ability to dissipate energy from swells and currents.” Its pilot artificial mangrove project will be tested in Agde, “a structure that is transparent to the flow, dissipating its energy by friction through the complexity of the path taken. Flow convergence and divergence phenomena considerably slow down the erosion. It lends itself to colonisation by biodiverse species, and encourages the return of natural mangroves through ecological connectivity”
Inspired by a principle of nature (it does not produce waste, nothing is lost, everything is transformed), Nicolas Vernoux-Thélot – CEO of InSitu Architecture and co-founder of InSitu Lab – wonders whether there may be a way of converting Sargassum, an invasive species, into thermal insulators. “These brown algae have multiplied tenfold over ten years,” he explains. “They suffocate the marine ecosystem when tens of thousands of tonnes of this seaweed wash up on the coasts of the West Indies or Normandy. They cannot be collected, burned or buried without causing ecological damage. On the other hand, they can add value to soil at local construction sites if they are combined with it, in the form of bricks or panels inspired by cob building materials, and serve mainly as insulation.”
“City and nature in symbiosis”
But “it would be dangerous to reduce living things to just a collection of technical solutions,” warns Olivier Lemoine, an ecologist and biodiversity expert at ELAN, a subsidiary of Bouygues Construction. “The main interest of biomimicry, in my opinion, is to encourage us to learn more about nature in order to re-establish links that have weakened over time. Our living places must become places of life in its broadest sense.”
“City and nature in symbiosis”: this is the objective of the Ecotone project, run by the Compagnie de Phalsbourg.
In biology, an ecotone is a transition area between two ecosystems. The building is intended to be the interface between two environments – city and nature – at the junction of the A6a and A6b motorways.
It will take the form of “two urban rocks” (according to their designers) – two green hills “with terraces along their slope”, connected by two footbridges with “excavated patios”. The façades will function like pine cones whose scales open in dry weather and close in wet weather to protect their seeds, adopting German technology being tested at the Hygroskin pavilion at the University of Stuttgart.
“The project is committed to the BiodiverCity ® label; one of its four key areas, devoted to practical applications, includes supporting users in their relationship with living things,” reveals Laure Frémeaux, an ecologist and consultant in sustainable real estate and biomimicry at ELAN.
“The way teams work, in an interdisciplinary approach throughout the project, is itself inspired by biomimicry,” Frémeaux adds. “All the project management teams and the project coordination assistants (four architectural agencies, one landscape designer) collaborated on the same platform, without filters, with a scientific committee made up of the National Natural History Museum, CEEBIOS, ELAN and Engie Lab Crigen.”
Three French regions commit to the biomimicry approach
In 2016, in order to benefit from the ecological, technological, economic and social benefits of the biomimicry approach, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region declared its desire to become a “pioneer” in biomimicry. A study was entrusted to CEEBIOS in September 2015, ahead of the merger of the Aquitaine, Limousin and Poitou-Charentes regions, to examine “what potential biomimicry offered for responsible innovation,” notes Nicolas Thierry, vice-president of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Council, in his preface to the study, and how it could be a driver of growth while meeting the objectives of sustainable development.
The study demonstrated that “all industrial sectors are potentially impacted by biomimicry: renewable energies imitating photosynthesis, soft chemistry using biocatalysts, treatment of wastewater by phyto-purification, natural recovery of plant or food waste, etc.”
“The Vertigo Lab consultancy firm has assessed the socio-economic impact of this approach,” explains Maider Lassus-Olasagasti in the interview which closes this file: “Within two to ten years, if all the Nouvelle-Aquitaine companies in the chemical-materials, building, agriculture and blue growth sectors were to adopt biomimicry in their activities, the region’s GDP would increase by 575 million and enable the creation of 5,600 jobs.” The region is supporting a marine biomimicry centre project in Biarritz with a dedicated building, as it did in 2018 for the creation of a scientific chair named Manta. Finally, the approach is included in several calls for projects.
“The French government is spectacularly absent”
However, “the French government is spectacularly absent,” writes Éric Le Boucher, in his editorial published by Les Echos on February 19, 2021, “probably because the interdisciplinary nature of biomimicry means it does not fall under the remit of any specific ministry.”
“Meanwhile, the German government has invested more than 170 million in research centres over the last twenty years,” points out Kalina Raskin. The University of Stuttgart is at the forefront of the field of bio-inspired, software-assisted architecture. It designs innovative ecological buildings and materials, and also the robots to create them.
Switzerland, too, has invested tens of millions of euros.
France, however, “excels in these areas, with 200 research teams and 100 large companies involved [such as L’Oréal, LVMH, EDF, RTE, Bouygues, OGIC, Eiffage], schools that develop training courses, and a generation of “Biomim French Tech” entrepreneurs well on its way,” write Alain Renaudin and Olivier Bocquet, the architect and director of the Rougerie+Tangram laboratory, in their petition launched in May 2021, “Creating a new vision of the city, inspired by nature”.
“Cities cover 3% of the planet. They will house 70% of the world’s population by 2050,” explains Clémence Béchu, director of development, innovation and partnerships at the architecture firm Anthony Béchu & Associés. As the main emitters of greenhouse gases, they are the main culprits of climate change… and also its main victims”.
At present, the way cities are built is destroying ecosystems. And yet, researchers warn, these natural ecosystems produce ecosystem services which are essential to city life: thermal regulation, construction materials, energy, control of natural disasters. “We are destroying the source of our social functioning and our existence,”
“We can see that nature knows how to adapt,” notes Clémence Béchu. “So why not create cities in the image of nature, so that those cities are able to do the same? The biomimetic city, a living city inspired by nature.”
“Inspiration from living things in architecture and town planning can be divided into three different categories: inspiration from a specific organism (for example a feather, the organ of an insect, etc.), inspiration from the behaviour of an organism (hibernation, cooperation, etc.) or even inspiration from a whole ecosystem (forest, marine, etc.),” writes Eduardo Blanco
Buildings viewed as living organisms
“We can draw an analogy between the façade of a building and the skin of an animal covered with hair, feathers, scales, exposed to the same climatic, thermal, humidity, mechanical stress and friction factors as a building,” explains Estelle Cruz, an architect, engineer and bio-inspired Habitat project manager at CEEBIOS, and co-author of a “Comparative analysis of bio-inspired façades” (2021).
The skins of certain animal species, which change colour to protect themselves from solar radiation when they are too intense, as well as plants reacting to the stimulus of the sun, have served as models for the façades of Lyon’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), scheduled for delivery in 2022, in the Biodistrict of Gerland.
Thermochromic glass slats integrated into the exterior façade, capable of changing colour when the exterior temperature rises, will provide some of the building’s thermal regulation. The system will be autonomous.
The interior façades, facing onto a patio, will be equipped with thermoactive solar protection with shape memory, in the form of artificial flowers that will reproduce the reactions of real flowers to the stimulation of the sun: they will open when exposed to temperatures of over 25 °C, but will close again when the temperature drops.
A district inspired by penguins
The behaviour of penguins on ice floes provided the inspiration for the project by the architectural firm Béchu & Associés, aimed at researchers and their families at district 11 of the Skolkovo Technological Innovation Center, in the southern suburbs of Moscow. Its biomimetic character is detailed in the collaborative work “Bio-inspired urban projects: an inventory of French projects” (2020). “In order to stay warm as a group, penguins congregate in concentric circles. By huddling together, in very dense groups (8 to 10 penguins per m2) and presenting only the top of their backs to the cold wind, penguins limit heat loss. This social structure was thus incorporated into the agency’s designs, which were themselves shaped by the contribution of parametric design […]”.
“The ten-by-ten grouping of around a hundred villas saves 5 °C via a radiation effect within each block” on an annually measured basis.
The orientation of the houses in relation to the sun is such that the houses have a warm façade and a cold façade, providing natural ventilation during hot summer and mid-season days.
A neighbourhood that acts like the natural ecosystem in which it exists
“The application of biomimicry to architecture is a very functional approach,” comments Eduardo Blanco, an environmental engineer responsible for Biomimicry and Regenerative Cities at CEEBIOS. We draw inspiration from some property of living things in responding to a construction problem: ventilation, reduction of matter and energy, etc. We take a model from nature and perform a knowledge transfer. Many innovations are already being tested at the individual building scale.
Moving up to the larger scale of the neighbourhood, the city, the region, there are fewer pre-established practices. The field is still under exploration.”
As part of the development of a neighbourhood, an examination of the ecosystem in which we are to establish a presence allows us to understand how we can reconnect to this mode of operation and get as close as possible to it.
“The first priority,” Blanco explains, “is to understand biological models by setting indicators: how much energy is produced, how energy transfers take place, how the ecosystem manages rainwater, how it provisions habitat for non-human species, and we quantify that information.
Next, we make a comparison with existing urban systems or a specific project, and we measure the differences.
Finally, with this gap in mind, we try to find technical solutions that bring the two functions – the artificial urban ecosystem and the natural ecosystem – together. It is an approach that is connected to regenerative design.”
Flagship projects? A neighbourhood project in Portland, Oregon (USA), the Lloyd Crossing Project in Oregon, designed by Mithun Architects and GreenWorks Landscape Architecture, connected to the natural ecosystem. It is modelled on a forest, using the method briefly summarized by Eduardo Blanco.
“After comparing forest indicators (water and energy management, examination of species and biodiversity), discrepancies appeared and two objectives were set: water and energy autonomy – a characteristic of any ecosystem – and the inclusion of biodiversity by improving the quality of air, water and soil. The project thus satisfies the ultimate objective that it had set for itself as a district designed by and for nature. It will achieve optimal function by 2050 (by that date, for example, the vegetation cover provided for in the project will be fully in place).
In addition to these three projects, other initiatives are likely to proliferate. A dynamic of “reinventing cities” inspired by living things has been launched, supported by the BiomimCity Lab co-founded within CEEBIOS by the Béchu & Associés agency, ELAN, Renault, In Situ Architecture and Tangram Architects, to name a few. examples.
Olivier Bocquet, architect, director of Lab Rougerie +Tangram
Maider Lassus-Olasagasti, Programme Leader for biomimicry and co-ordination of networks and local communities at the economic and environmental development cluster of the Regional Council of Nouvelle Aquitaine,
Kalina Raskin, CEO of CEEBIOS (biomimicry studies and expertise centre)
How should we understand the word “biomimicry”? How does its meaning differ from “bio-inspiration” or “biomorphism”?
Kalina Raskin – “Bio inspiration” is the umbrella term that covers any strategy inspired by living things, in the very broad sense of the term, across artistic, poetic and scientific fields.
Biomorphism consists of copying a form found in nature: Art Nouveau, for example, for aesthetic reasons, will represent a flower or a plant. But there does not necessarily have to be any function associated with this imitation.
The biomimetic approach is a scientific approach for obtaining a detailed understanding of biological phenomena, in order to find solutions to problems, in fields other than biology. This is the approach we are working on at CEEBIOS, without denying the value of the biomorphic approach – aesthetics play a fundamental role, as does inspiration – but we are seeking to understand the reasons behind a form or a structure… its underlying properties, how to extract and optimise them, and transpose them to other areas.
Beyond that, we are focusing on learning how living things adapt to crises, looking at how they were made, how they evolved, under what conditions, etc.
Olivier Bocquet – It is also an invitation to reconnect humans with living things in general, and the environment from which they come. We have put aside ecology in the broad sense, the living world that surrounds us, enabling us to answer basic questions: what has given us life? What enables us to feed ourselves, and to breathe healthy air?
Because the question before us is clearly this: will humankind be able to continue to feed itself, breathe and survive in favourable climatic conditions, on the surface of this magnificent planet with its finite resources?
Why is there currently such an interest in biomimicry?
Kalina Raskin – Because our understanding of living things and how they work is much better, thanks to technical tools, such as microscopy, molecular analysis and satellites, that we did not have a few decades ago.
On the other hand, we are at an impasse in terms of social development. The IPCC and IPBES reports are damning! We need new points of reference to enable us to find a new path forward and evolve.
Olivier Bocquet – Drawing inspiration from living principles provides its own guarantee that you are doing something sustainable. Living things have been innovating for 3.8 billion years of existence. What we have in front of us today are treasures of innovation, refined by time, evolution, and periods of warming and cooling. This forms a gigantic library of what endures and facilitates endurance – an extremely interesting source of inspiration, given that it takes ecosystems and alternative possibilities into account.
Kalina Raskin – The specifications for living things are very close to the specifications that are being established in terms of ecological transition. Living things operate in non-extreme conditions: at moderate temperature and pressure, thanks to abundant, widely available, local resources, they consume modest amounts of water, and are very efficient in managing information.
To find out more on this subject, there has been a permanent exhibition at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie museum on biomimicry for the past year, aimed at the general public. I have had the chance to be part of the scientific council made up of biologists, physicists, chemists, economists, sociologists and anthropologists. We all agreed on the fact that visitors should take these living specifications away with them afterwards, as a blueprint for the development of the society of tomorrow. Surely this path offered by evolution, which all species on earth have followed (except us), is the most interesting, and the most sustainable? The one that will be the least risky for the future?
Olivier Bocquet – These principles and strategies of living organisms have blessed us with considerable biodiversity on a planet with finite resources. Nature does not produce waste that is not useful to others: adopting a circular approach, it feeds itself via short supply chains, and works on the basis of energy flows and not energy stocks. Living organisms produce other living organisms. They are not a threat to themselves. Only Man is.
Are these specifications already being adopted by manufacturers?
Kalina Raskin – Yes, a growing number of architectural firms are integrating the specifications of living things; and this is not limited to aesthetics or biomorphism. An ecosystem is starting to spring up around the theme of biomimicry, including promoters and constructors.
But the architects are often the ones who are the main drivers of projects that incorporate this complex theme: they play a pivotal and unifying role regarding new concepts, scientific approaches and innovative themes that promoters and manufacturers have more difficulty achieving at present.
Olivier Bocquet, please tell us about Tangram Lab – the research laboratory you’ve been managing for eight years within Tangram Architects.
Olivier Bocquet – It’s a prospective architecture research and innovation laboratory; but because Tangram Architects and the Jacques Rougerie architectes agency have just merged, the laboratory is now called Rougerie+ Tangram Lab.
Opened in 2013 within the Tangram Architects agency, it puts living organisms at the heart of initiatives for which it develops its own tools, creation and innovation processes.
Its vocation is always the same: to advance research, in a multidisciplinary and partnership approach, on questions of innovation, biomimicry in particular, by taking four themes – four major concerns – into consideration: energy and energy saving, materials and material saving, waste = resources, biodiversity and ecosystems.
And as we believe that the future of humankind is not only on earth but also under water and in space, our research is focused on three separate work environments: sea, land and space.
The lab is also, and most importantly, a resource center for Rougerie + Tangram. Prospective projects born in the lab are turning into an increasing number of projects that are starting to take shape: the four themes that I have just mentioned are sufficiently cross-cutting to have a role to play, in the long term, in all of our projects. Clearly, the direction taken today is no longer one of simply embarking upon a project as we used to without first focusing on these four themes.
In addition, our ambition – that’s not too strong a word, because it’s extremely complex to do this well – is to transform our professions so that they are no longer merely urban planners and landscape architects, but designers of the framework of tomorrow’s world. To be ready to play our part in advancing the future of Man and sharing our knowledge, as we are always keen to do, especially with middle and high school students.
Is there an eco-inspired project that you are particularly proud of?
Olivier Bocquet – An artificial reef, named Bathyreef, will start at the end of January 2022 on an astrophysical site, the Antarès site, off the Toulon coast, to observe the bioluminescence of bacteria at a depth of 2,500 metres and changes in the Mediterranean as a result of climate change: acidification of oceans, current changes, etc.
About fifteen special areas are involved in this major European project, for which Mediterranean Institute of Oceanology (the MIO) has asked me to create a very small artificial reef, 4 metres long by 2 metres wide by 1.20 metres high, an observation platform for a robot depths, called Bathybot, which will be linked to the surface and will send us real-time data via the Internet. The robot needed a platform to lift it off the seabed and escape the clouds of sediment caused by its comings and goings, and to be able to look down from above.
I therefore suggested a reef inspired by ascidians, with branches that support the platform, offer maximum resistance, and allow the robot to see through its gaps.
The idea was to do this with a minimum of material: we were inspired by a manufacturing method used by living organisms that involves adding material (so-called “additive” manufacturing), by 3D-printing the concrete in strands from 3 to 8 cm in diameter, which is extremely small, but sufficient to support the reef. And because concrete is mineral and biogenic, it acts as a good home for living things.
Extreme environments – space and the seabed – interest me enormously. They have things in common: no access to drinking water, light, or air… in such conditions, we are forced to become inventive and find as many intelligent and pragmatic solutions as possible. So once you come back to the surface of the earth, it’s much easier to find frugal, innovative solutions once you have been in such environments. Beyond that, the poetry inherent in the exploration of these environments has always fascinated me, just as it has always fascinated Jacques Rougerie. I try to convey it in my work.
Is Marseille, where you are located, an inspiring place to be?
Olivier Bocquet – Yes, very inspiring! Are you familiar with Marseille? It forms a sort of amphitheatre overlooking the sea, backed by a semicircular cordon of hills, facing the sun and the blue of the sea. In almost all the streets, you’re in close proximity to natural spaces; the Les Calanques national park is right in the city, and the Old Port is the city’s epicentre!
In addition to that, despite what you might think, it’s a city that has a fierce climate, subject to dry spells, strong light and wind, and deep darkness; these are aspects that tend to form the local character.
The southern region for which it is the capital is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Ecrins massif is 4,000 metres above sea level, and the Mediterranean sea floor is beneath over 2,500 metres of deep water. When you descend from the mountains and then pass through alpine valleys, rivers, deltas and hills that plunge into the sea, what geographical, climatic and hydraulic riches!
If the engine of biomimicry is biodiversity, we can hardly help but be inspired by these colossal reservoirs of knowledge!
At the same time, as one of the most visited regions in the world, there is strong human pressure on these extremely old, fragile, unique ecosystems, subject to global warming.
So here, we are dealing with a challenge (reducing this pressure) as well as a reservoir of knowledge with which to tackle it: species that have spent millions of years adapting certainly have a lot to teach us to solve the problems that we have created.
Maider Lassus-Olasagasti: back in 2016, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region declared itself a pioneer in biomimicry. Why this goal?
Maider Lassus-Olasagasti: The objective was to support “blue growth” as part of our regional economic development plan for innovation and internationalisation (SRDEII), late 2016.
Nouvelle-Aquitaine is open to the ocean, with its 900 km of coastline. It has an exceptional natural heritage, and is based on an academic fabric of excellence and remarkably dynamic economic players.
In our support for blue growth, we are committed to a responsible approach towards the ocean. This commitment has required us to abandon a traditional model of knowledge stored inside silos, and has overturned a linear vision of innovation, replacing it with a more systemic and horizontal collaboration, which makes it possible to address the environmental, social and economic challenges of all local communities and to reconcile humans with nature.
In addition, in July 2019, the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Council adopted a roadmap, Néo Terra, to support and accelerate ecological and energy transitions in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. The roadmap adheres to specifications for living organisms, and emphasises how biomimicry is part of a response to the eleven ambitions of this roadmap, with the aim of moving from diagnosis to action.
In practical terms, how did Nouvelle-Aquitaine’s commitment to a biomimetic approach come about? What actions have been taken to achieve the stated objective?
Maider Lassus-Olasagasti – With support from CEEBIOS, we have identified and mapped the players involved in the biomimicry process: startups, SMEs and academic players.
In addition, the Vertigo Lab consultancy firm has assessed the socio-economic impact of this approach: if 25% of Nouvelle-Aquitaine companies in the chemical-materials, construction, agriculture and blue growth sectors were to adopt biomimicry in their activities, the region’s GDP would increase by 575 million and enable the creation of 5,600 jobs over the next 2 to 10 years.
We then created working groups focused on the themes of materials, marine life and habitat. Key players in the region have taken on the co-management of these working groups: the University of Pau and the Adour countries (UPPA), with its IPREM laboratory, the Basque Country conurbation with a strong commitment to the subject which has assumed responsibility for blue growth, and the NOBATEK / INEF4 research centre, for the building and habitat component. This has enabled us to structure a long-term network, and to spread the culture of biomimicry in the region.
In 2018, the region supported the creation of the Manta research chair, which brings together institutional, academic and economic partners to meet the challenges of competitiveness and provide sustainable jobs. This primarily involves promoting co-products from the sea and developing bio-sourced and bio-inspired materials for its industrial partners.
We are working with the stakeholders to continue efforts to structure an innovation ecosystem that brings together companies, academics and students, with several initiatives that we hope to be able to discuss soon.
What are the main obstacles encountered?
Maider Lassus-Olasagasti – Above all, there are fragmented initiatives and work in silos.
But the question that arises is not so much how to unite and coordinate the actors; it is more how to convince others of the value of biomimicry… to give it real shape, and to prove its effectiveness.
However, if the process has not even been deployed, how can its effectiveness be proven? It will take a little while longer. In the natural world, patience is a virtue…
And what drivers are used to engage regional players, in addition to the foundation of a technology hub and research chair, and the creation of working groups?
Maider Lassus-Olasagasti – Calls for projects are excellent drivers. In October 2020, for example, we launched a call for projects on marine bio-inspired design covering multiple sectors, such as construction, cosmetology and board sports. It’s still running; we’re still accepting responses!
And in 2020, we included biomimicry in the specifications for the renovation of secondary schools in Saintes, Pessac and Voutezac.
In addition, the Odeys cluster for sustainable construction and development in Nouvelle-Aquitaine will integrate biomimicry into its building standards, in line with the Sustainable Construction roadmap.
Finally, it seems to be the case that major groups have understood the value of the topic and seized on the opportunity that it represented. We are working with several of them in this area within the framework of the partnerships that we have set up. The region has included biomimicry in its Nouvelle-Aquitaine Rebonds fund, approved in October 2020, as a driver of innovation accompanied by support for the emergence of demonstrators.
And this summer, the region joined the CEEBIOS SCIC organisation. It is the first region to have acquired shares in this co-operative.
Kalina Raskin, the CEEBIOS association became a cooperative in January 2021. To what end?
Kalina Raskin – Such a status is not common in the field of science and research, but we believe that with regard to climatic and environmental emergencies, the large number of CEEBIOS players and the multidisciplinary nature of its work, and if we are to maintain and nurture a biomimicry dynamic in France, it was the only statute that ultimately made sense; it meets our needs for a structure that is represented, guided and governed by all stakeholders, in the most representative way possible: companies, associations, institutions, finance, academia and research.
It is a non-profit SCIC. Profit would not be unwelcome, but the return on investment will lie in the development of common resources; everyone has skills that will be enriched by collaboration with others.
Collaborating, while ensuring a sustainable economic system for everyone, and without diluting the message, either… that’s exciting!
“Cooperation creates, and competition sorts,” writes Jean-Marie Pelt. The days of competition seem over. Create, create again, and collaborate: we see no other possible way, given the situation.