Bio-mimicry at its Best!

Bio-mimicry is a term that refers to ways in which human beings use ideas derived from nature in order to come up with environmental friendly and sustainable solutions to the different challenges that we face in the world today.

And so today I thought I should share with you one of the projects that has REALLY  inspired me.

Harvesting Water out of Thin Air

In Africa, a large percentage of women and children are walking long distances and spend most of their time in search of what has now come to be known as the blue gold-Water.  More than 300 million people in Africa lack clean water. What really breaks my heart is that even after all this, the kind of water collected is murky, muddy and very polluted….water that is unsuitable for human consumption. Their health is endangered by micro-organisms in the water. Babies are often sickened when women must mix infant formula using the dirty water.

This situation has driven an MIT graduate student is to work to make water available for the world’s poor by refining the tools and techniques of fog harvesting.

His idea was inspired by a beetle found in the Namibian Desert on the west coast of Africa. This beetle, whose scientific name is Stenocara gracilipes  has found a distinctive way of surviving. When the morning fog rolls in, the Namib Beetle, collects water droplets on its bumpy back, then lets the moisture roll down into its mouth, allowing it to drink in an area devoid of flowing water.
What nature has developed, Shreerang Chhatre wants to refine, to help the world’s poor. Chhatre is an engineer and aspiring entrepreneur at MIT who works on fog harvesting, the deployment of devices that, like the beetle, attract water droplets and corral the runoff. This way, poor villagers could collect clean water near their homes, instead of spending hours carrying water from distant wells or streams. In pursuing the technical and financial sides of his project, Chhatre is simultaneously a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering at MIT; an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management; and a fellow at MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship.

Access to water is a pressing global issue: the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that nearly 900 million people worldwide live without safe drinking water. The burden of finding and transporting that water falls heavily on women and children. “As a middle-class person, I think it’s terrible that the poor have to spend hours a day walking just to obtain a basic necessity,” Chhatre says.

A fog-harvesting device consists of a fence-like mesh panel, which attracts droplets, connected to receptacles into which water drips. Chhatre has co-authored published papers on the materials used in these devices, and believes he has improved their efficacy. “The technical component of my research is done,” Chhatre says. He is pursuing his work at MIT Sloan and the Legatum Center in order to develop a workable business plan for implementing fog-harvesting devices.

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