Friday, 29 July 2011

Organic Science

I made quite a big deal out of bamboo bikes when they started appearing on the scene - easy, zero-carbon transportation from what is arguably our most renewable resource (some varieties of bamboo grow more than 39 inches per day). Looking at growth rates like that, I think we should be making damn near everything out of bamboo.

The best science draws lessons from the processes it studies in nature. We can already produce hydrogen from water with an "artificial leaf." Once we learn to use solar power - a virtually limitless, cost-free buffet of energy - effectively (which is already happening) we can join the rest of the biosphere by drawing our energy from our local star instead of relying on rotting carbon that has been locked away from the atmosphere for millions of years. The point is - there is a sub-field of science, which may even already be well-delineated in literature (I'm not a scientist), that attempts to work with nature and natural processes to help advance humanity - which brings us back to bamboo.

From Alex Knapp's blog at Forbes*:

There are a lot of cool student finalists for this year’s James Dyson Award, but I have to say that the one that intrigued me the most was the entry by Alexander Vittouris of Monash University. His entry, called the Ajiro, is a bicycle style transport that’s composed of bamboo – but with a twist. Rather than going through the complicated process of steaming and bending bamboo to suit his shape, he actually used a reusable skeleton to guide the shape of the bamboo as it grew. In other words, the frame of the vehicle was “grown” rather than manufactured.

It’ll be interesting to see if this type of “manufacturing” catches on. Bamboo is a very versatile material (disclosure: I’m wearing a shirt made of bamboo fibers right now), and if it can be directed to grow into a variety of shapes, it might turn out to be a practical, cheap manufacturing technique.

I notice that Knapp left out "sustainable" there (as in, "a practical, cheap, sustainable manufacturing technique"), but he has a good eye for really excellent innovation - and growing bamboo around a frame to "manufacture" structures up to and including bike frames is astounding.

* - It amazes me that I've happened upon even one entry by one blogger at Forbes that isn't absolute garbage. It was Forbes, remember, that gave Dinesh "Crazytime" D'Souza a forum in which to plug his new book and imply that President Obama can be best understood through the lens of his pseudo-Maoist anti-Colonialist father, who Obama met, I believe, once. Forbes is awful.

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