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Research ESRIG - Energy and Sustainability Research Institute Groningen Ocean Ecosystems Research themes

Research theme IV

Marine Biomimetics

- What is biomimetics?
- Doing biomimetics
- Research conducted within this theme
- Methods & equipment

What is Biomimetics?

Life on Earth has originated about 3.8 billion years ago in the sea, and most of the animal, plant and bacterial species are still found in the sea. This comprises an enormous diversity in life forms with all sorts of different anatomies, morphologies and functions. We can look at all these organisms from an ecological point of view, studying their way of life and their place in the marine food chains, but we can also look at this diversity as a sheer unfathomable catalogue of solutions for problems that evolution faced over these many milions of years. To understand these ‘solutions’, still a lot of fundamental research needs to be done, but for specific technical problems one can also look for organisms that successfully solved a similar problem. This field of science is called Biomimetics, which literally means ‘copying life’; sometimes also the terms ‘Bionics’ or ‘Biomimicry’ are used, the latter meaning essentially the same, and ‘Bionics’ originated from a combination of the words ‘Biology’ and ‘Technics’.

Doing biomimetics

When taking a direct biomimetics approach to solving a technology-related problem, we typically take a certain route to do it the proper way. After formalising the technical problem to its essence, we first look for a biological parallel where this problem was solved, that is then studied to understand its function fully, after which this is abstracted and simplified to get to an applicable solution which is finally implemented. An example of a direct biomimetic approach from the research in our department is e.g. streamlining of cargo trucks. We look for examples of streamlining in the marine realm in general (which are plentiful available in e.g. fish) but also streamlining when living close to a boundary or wall (e.g.certain species of patella), which has a better resemblance to a truck or car on a road.

On the other hand, it may also be the case that we recognize a solution for a technical problem in the function of certain systems of biological organisms. In that case one can speak of serendipitous biomimetics: a solution for a technical problem that emerged while doing fundamental research. An example of this within the research in our department is designing the perfect filter system that does never clog, after the filtration systems as found in marine organisms, in our case mostly filter-feeding fish such as Herring, Mullets and Paddlefish but also the Basking Shark.

Research conducted within this theme

Because of the specialisations in our department, we mostly look at flow-related problems with regard to biomimetics. Subjects that are currently studied are:

  • Biomimetic Windturbine Optimization in cooperation with a consortium from the wind-industry, i.e. EmpowerMI (Groningen, NL) and RG-Projects (Leiden, NL). Aim is to implement an oscillating motion to part of the blade that enhances the aerodynamic forces especially at low wind speed. That will enable harvesting wind energy at lower cut-in speeds as well as at higher efficiencies at lower wind speeds. Additional funding from an NWO Take-off grant (2019).
  • Biomimetic Ship Propulsion Systems where we have cooperation with the maritime research institute MARIN (Wageningen, NL), Aim is to design and test a fin-based propulsion system on river freighters that will allow a significant propulsive efficiency increase and thereby a serious reduction in fuel use and the emission of sud particles/fine dust and CO2. Funding from the University of Groningen (NL).
  • Biomimetic Innovation For Small and Medium Enterprises in the Dutch-German border region. This 3-yr project comprises a consortium from the UAS Bocholt and the University of Groningen, together with technology transfer organizations TCNN (Groningen, NL), Kennispark Twente (Enschede, NL), Emsland GmbH (Meppen, Germany) and WFG Borken (Borken, Germany) to solve innovation problems for small and medium enterprises in the Dutch-German border region via biomimetics solutions. Funding is from the European Interreg Program.
  • Underwater Kiting to Harvest Tidal Energy in cooperation with the company SeaQurrent (Grouw, NL) who originally designed a prototype of a TidalKite, aiming to harvest energy from tidal currents from 0.5 m/s and higher. The role of our group is to optimize the kite system as well as experimentally and in simulation map the flow patterns and predict the forces on the kite as well as the harvestable energy. Funded by the Province of Fryslan (NL) and the Waddenfonds (NL).
  • Biomimetic Filtration Systems where the aim is to optimize industrial filtration systems towards a real continuous process to prevent interruptions of production processes because of clogged filters. Biological models are ram-filter-feeding fish such as Herring, Mullet and the Paddlefish. Both the filtration processes of the organisms are studied in detail, but also technical translations are designed, built and tested to check for the right interpretation as well as proper functioning. Funding is from the University of Groningen.
  • Potential energy savings from formation flight modelled after formation flying birds
  • Potential energy savings from formation ‘swimming’ after schooling fish

PhD projects:

  • Self-Adapting or Morphing Wind Turbine Blades in cooperation with the Alfred Wegener Institute (Bremerhaven, Germany). Here inspiration is found in light-weght structures as e.g. found in Diatoms and in flexible back-bone structures as e.g. found in a fish’ body which are combined with a flow-sensing system and a biomimetic actuation system to be able to instantaneously change the profile shape of a wind turbine blade in reaction to instantaneous wind direction or force changes. Funding is from the Ubbo Emmius program of the University of Groningen and the ELISE-group at the AWI-Bremerhaven. PhD-student: Paul Bomke.
  • Biomimetic Undulatory Propulsion modelled after undulatory swimming fish because of their high propulsion efficiency. Here the undulatory motions of swimming fish are interpreted towards foils with variable stiffness that perform a waving motion, driven by only one oscillating shaft. Despite the strong simplification, the propulsion systems mimicks the real fish rather well as can be measured from the propulsive forces and fromtwake visualisatiuions and it seems to have high potential as a propulsive system for small scale vessels (small electric boats) as well as UAV’s. Funding from the UAS Bremen and University of Groningen. PhD-student: René Sonntag.
  • Biomimetic Truck Streamlining in cooperation with DAF Trucks B.V. (Einhoven. NL), to derive a more streamlined cabin shape from (mostly) aquatic animals that live in currents and close to the sea floor. Aim is to significantly reduce the aerodynamic drag of the truck and thereby reduce the fuel use as well as reduce emissions of CO2 and sud particles/fine dust. Funded by the University of Groningen (NL). PhD-student: Xiaoyin Fang.
  • Biomimetic Small Urban Wind Turbines in cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences Rhein-Waal (Kleve, Germany). The aim of this project is to design very simple and easy to construct wind turbine blades, modelled after e.g. Samara-seeds. Such blades can easily and cheaply be manufactured by hobbyist or in rural area’s in developing countries and therefore allow a cheap transition to wind energy as a power source. Funded by UAS Rhein-Waal and University of Groningen. PhD-student: Hossain Sawkat.

Methods & equipment

Both the organisms or structures involved and the flows that are resulting from it are studied using:

  • High-Speed Video (B/W & full colour, up to 10k fps)
  • Stereoscopic video (up to 100 fps)
  • Flow tanks (up to 0.4 x 0.4 x 1.2 m measure section, max speed 3 m/s)
  • Race track tank (6 x 4 m, canal width 0,7 m)
  • Wind tunnels (up to 1.4 x 1.4 x 1.5 m measure section, max speed 50 m/s in smaller section)
  • Aquarium room with large holding tanks, octagonal tank (3 m Ø)
  • Climate rooms
  • Digital Particle Image Velocimetry applying Lasers up to 45 W CW
  • 3D prototyping techniques (DLP) for making models
  • 2D force measurement system with resp. 5N and 50 N full scale with 16 bits readout

For more information on this theme, please contact Eize Stamhuis.

Last modified:19 November 2019 09.39 a.m.