Following Nature’s Blueprint
Through Biomimicry, Shell explores ways nature can inspire innovative energy ideas.
The space efficient honeycomb created by bees has inspired the technology behind Formula One™ car bodies. Shell employees, in partnership with leading auto designers, created a “honeycomb monocoque” that makes the cars increasingly nimble but immensely strong, allowing Shell’s Project M concept car to be twice as resilient as steel yet 5 times lighter. Taking inspiration from bees is one example of biomimcry, the practice of imitating models, systems and elements found in nature to solve complex human problems. At Shell, this careful study of the ecosystem has inspired us to create sustainable products, processes and policies to solve the energy challenges of the future.
Just like how bees work together to create their honeycomb, collaboration played a similar key role in solving the challenge presented in Project M. As it is predicted that more than three-quarters of the population will live in a city by 2050, the Shell Concept Car needed to be lightweight and safe, but also comfortable, cost-efficient and cost-effective – all powered by innovative lubricants and fuels.
We saw Project M as a chance for us to explore ways to improve movement around our cities, now and in the future. To do so, we emulated how bees work together in nature and collaborated with industry-leaders Gordon Murray Design and Geo Technology to co-engineer the design and build of an ultra-compact and energy efficient city car. Gordon Murray Design has also pioneered use of the same honeycomb-inspired technology in road cars at a lower cost than the conventional road car body.
In addition to having industry-leading experts working together and sharing their years of experience and expertise, within our own team we tapped into a pool of talent with leaders in lubricants, commercial technology and innovation. The Shell team worked to develop fluids for the car – “designing” the motor oil that would complement and enhance the overall efficiency of the vehicle. Bob Mainwaring, Shell Lubricants Technology Manager for Innovation; Andrew Hepher, Vice President Global Commercial Technology; and Tony Davenport, Shell Lubricants Innovation Project Leader, all used their prior experiences working in the engine, nuclear, R&D and manufacturing industries to drive the project’s goal of creating Shell’s first city car.
This ultra-efficient concept car is one of many steps that Shell plans to take reduce energy use on the road. After unveiling the car in April of this year, Hepher said: “Our car may be small, but it’s packed with potential. We want to accelerate the conversation about how we make road vehicles more energy efficient and less carbon-intensive. In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to sharing our research insights from this project with engine designers, car manufacturers, academics and other experts across the automotive sector.”
Taking a cue from bees is just one way biomimicry drives innovation at Shell. This is an exciting new process that we are only beginning to fully explore. So far, we have helped students develop sky wells inspired by beetles and increased ship energy efficiency by emulating penguins. What else can we learn from nature? We’re always looking for bright new energy ideas. And we’re always searching for remarkable applicants who can help us find them.