Bionics from the microcosm

Car rim after algae model

Shell of a diatom Markus Geisen / AWI
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The shell structures of algae have taken researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute as a model for car rims, computer cases and lampshades. Models and computer animations of these product ideas as well as a prototype can be seen from April 28 to October 9 at the Federal Garden Show (BUGA) in Munich.

An improved road holding due to increased stability and simultaneous weight reduction - Christian Hamm and Ulf Lüdemann develop car rims on presentation of nature. The two researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research took a closer look at the shell of the diatom Arachnoidiscus japonicus, which was just one-twentieth of a millimeter in diameter, and developed a digital model based on electron micrographs. They hope to become an innovative competition for traditional tire wearers.

Lightweight and stable

"The interlocking shells of the coastal marine diatoms have ribs, honeycombs and pores. They are extremely light and stable, "explains Hamm. "For millions of years, diatoms have been floating in the sea, adjusting their silicate shells throughout evolution. Today we can learn a lot from the compromise between hovering lightweight construction and resistance to the pines of their predators. "

In micromechanical crash tests, which were carried out in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich and Forschungszentrum Jülich, the shells withstand loads of 700 tonnes per square meter. The rims developed on the model of diatoms have already proved their suitability for the road in computer-aided calculations. In the exhibition designed by the architect Jan Geisen at the Federal Garden Show, a prototype of the rim can be seen, which was produced with the support of the company Alphaform. Renowned car manufacturers have already expressed their interest.

Learning from nature

Model of a car rim modeled after the diatom © Markus Geisen / AWI

Bionics, a focal point of this year's BUGA and future research branch at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, applies biological principles of design and operation to current technical problems. Nature offers an almost inexhaustible wealth of proposed solutions. In addition to the new car rim, Hamm is already working on computer housings that model the diatom shell structures. A variety of pores to provide better ventilation, and with high stability and low weight of the housing. display

Institute colleague Markus Geisen did it the calcareous algae. "In addition to stability, the lime slabs of the shell also allow bundling of the light. This allows the algae living on solar energy to use their energy better, "explains Geisen. At the BUGA the prototype of a lighting body based on these principles is shown. In collaboration with the internationally renowned designer and engineer Alberto Meda and the design laboratory Bremerhaven, the aesthetic lamp is to be brought to series production readiness.

Unicellular algae play an important role in the global climate and food web in the sea, not only in bionics but also in nature. Diatoms account for about a quarter of the world's biomass produced by photosynthesis. Limestone algae are by far the most productive lime formers in the sea. They influence the chemistry of seawater and thus its absorption capacity for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Research on microalgae is therefore not only interesting for industrial applications, but also important for our understanding of the global climate system.

(AWI, 29.04.2005 - AHE)