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Bird feathers spur scientists to develop revolutionary process for creating better batteries — here’s how it works

“[This process] should allow large-scale production of such nature-inspired materials.”

"[This process] should allow large-scale production of such nature-inspired materials."

Photo Credit: iStock

The patterns found in nature are astoundingly both artistic and mathematical, and scientists have made a new breakthrough after taking inspiration from the microscopic structures in the feathers of the Eastern bluebird. 

As detailed by Anthropocene, researchers at ETH Zurich believe that the “network of channels” in the bluebirds’ feathers, which reflect the light to give the bird its signature color, could be imitated to make more energy-efficient, faster-charging batteries or filter toxins and bacteria from water. 

While 3D printing was initially considered a way to replicate these structures, it was ruled out because of cost and time considerations, as well as the complexity of the method.

Instead, materials scientist Eric Dufresne and his team used heat to combine an “oily solution” and a clear silicone rubber.

As the material cooled down, the rubber and oil separated again, and the researchers were left with network channels four times wider than the ones in the bluebird feathers.

The journal Nature Materials published their findings. 

The researchers indicated that their simple yet revolutionary process “should allow large-scale production of such nature-inspired materials,” as reported by Anthropocene, which is potentially exciting news for the transition away from dirty energy, such as oil, gas, and coal.

The United States is among the countries that have approved tax incentives in order to help consumers transition toward products that create less harmful pollution. For those who need to drive, electric vehicles are the more planet-friendly choice in the long term because they don’t release pollution from their tailpipes. 

The process of acquiring the materials to manufacture EV batteries, though, can cause water contamination, release toxic fumes, and degrade the land being mined. So longer-lasting batteries could help make a dent in those issues. 

Meanwhile, according to National Geographic, even though our planet has far more water than land, only 3% of it is freshwater — with just 1.2% of that already tiny amount available for drinking.

The World Health Organization noted that nearly two billion people drank feces-contaminated water in 2022, while almost 30% of the global population didn’t have access to safe water. 

While there are a variety of factors that contribute to those issues, having a cost-effective way to treat the water would only benefit the global community. 

Anthropocene wrote that researchers on the bluebird project are now looking into how natural substances could “make similar materials that are more sustainable and are significantly cheaper.”

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