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  Inicio » Informes » Educacin Ambiental » Educacin Ambiental » Mirando sobre el hombro de la naturaleza...
 


Esta nota corresponde al Número 39 - Nov/1997 de la Revista Gerencia Ambiental


Mirando sobre el hombro de la naturaleza
Reporte anual de Medio Ambiente de Lufthansa.

Científicos estadounidenses y alemanes descubrieron que algunas cualidades de los animales podían ser aplicadas a la aeronavegación. Airbus Industrie y Lufthansa son las primeras empresas que en sus pruebas de vuelo están implementando algunos de estos diseños de avanzada



Probablemente, no haya otro campo en el que la madre naturaleza ayude tanto al hombre como en la aeronavegación.

En 1889 Otto Lilienthal comentaba: "Un aparato volador que pretenda ser efectivo, ahorrando el mayor trabajo, deberá asemejarse en su forma y proporciones exactamente a las alas de los pájaros más grandes y de buen volar".

Cada vez es más frecuente que los ingenieros imiten a la naturaleza en busca de soluciones a los problemas técnicos. Este reciclaje de ideas ha devenido en la ciencia biónica, término inventado por James Steele, ingeniero y oficial de la US Air Force.

En la capacidad de las plantas y animales de adaptarse a las más variadas condiciones ambientales, el hombre encontró la respuesta para mejorar sus tecnologías.

Es así que, una de las líneas evolutivas fueron los ojos facetados de los insectos. Estos tienen la posibilidad de ver prácticamente todo alrededor de sí mismos sin tener que girar la cabeza. Por esta cualidad, las moscas son tan difíciles de atrapar.

Entretanto, el hombre intenta copiar algunas de las características del reino animal a través de la técnica ensayo-error. Esta tarea se le asignó a la ingeniería moderna, que debe aprender de la naturaleza mucho más que sólo la metodología.

En este campo, los murciélagos son el ejemplo vivo ideal para estudiar los sonidos. Estos animales disponen de sensores especiales de ultrasonido. Dado que los sonidos agudos o graves tienen una reflexión diferente según la superficie en la que inciden, el "eco" de estos tonos es lo que los animales analizan. Con el ultrasonido y el radar, el ser humano adquirió recientemente la misma habilidad, aunque sólo gracias a la ayuda masiva de las computadoras.

El murciélago es solamente una muestra de la alta tecnología en la naturaleza. En otro ámbito, los delfines poseen un método de posicionamiento subacuático de sonido que les permite direccionar su nado. El luvio del Nilo es técnicamente más avanzado aún. Es capaz de orientarse en las aguas turbias, generando alrededor de sí un campo eléctrico. En caso de que éste sea deformado por piedras, plantas y presas, la anomalía es detectada con la ayuda de 4.000 receptores en su piel.

Una óptica tangencial
A menudo, es suficiente con observar los hechos cotidianos bajo otra óptica para descubrir fenómenos sorprendentes. Por ejemplo, un árbol además de ser un organismo vivo tiene el diseño perfecto para soportar toneladas de nieve acumulada. En términos técnicos cada ramificación es como una muesca en una madera y con ello un punto débil permanente.

El profesor Claus Matteck, físico y experto en detección de daños, investigó este tema en profundidad. Junto a sus colaboradores analizó 10.000 árboles descubriendo el truco de diseño que transforma sus debilidades en fortalezas.

Estos resultados fueron incorporados en el Computer Aided Optimizacion (CAO), un programa de computación que indaga las cualidades de productos desde la patilla de un anteojo hasta un árbol de leva. Gracias a estos estudios, ciertas piezas constructivas que se rompían rápidamente duran hasta cien veces más.

Otro ejemplo de diseño perfecto son los panales de abejas. La celda de sección hexagonal brinda la mejor posibilidad de dividir el espacio, permitiendo un máximo de ahorro de material.

Esta ventaja fue adoptada por los ingenieros aeronáuticos en la búsqueda de ahorrar peso en los aviones. El piso de la cabina de una aeronave se compone en principio de tres capas: la inferior y la superior son de material plástico reforzado con fibra de vidrio. Es en la capa intermedia de apoyo donde se aplicó la estructura de panal de abejas. A diferencia de las otras dos, esta posee una placa plástica ultraliviana llamada Honeycomb, con la que se logró disminuir el peso neto del avión.

La mayor parte de elementos realizados de materiales compuestos con fibras tienen esa estructura, tanto el morro del radar como el timón lateral del Airbus. Ello permite aliviar el peso y en consecuencia ahorrar combustible.

Cuestión de piel
Una manera de reducir el impacto ambiental podría ser el uso de piel de tiburón en los aviones. Los científicos constataron que estos cetáceos nadan más rápido de lo que en realidad les permitiría la forma de su cuerpo y su fuerza impulsora.

La clave a la incógnita se encuentra en unas líneas longitudinales muy delgadas en la piel del pez que canalizan la corriente en la capa de contacto, reduciendo la resistencia por fricción.

Las compañías Airbus Industrie y Lufthansa se abocaron a estudiar si este mecanismo sería una manera factible de reducir el consumo de combustible de los aviones. Con este fin, la empresa americana 3M desarrolló Riblet, una película delgada provista de un fino perfil aserruchado con la que se cubrieron diversas partes de un A 320 de Lufthansa con algunos metros cuadrados.

Durante un año se efectuaron ensayos de resistencia de la película, verificando si el perfil de tan sólo 0,2 milímetros se llenaba de suciedad o si se erosionaba con el agua y las partículas de polvo.

Entretanto, a través de ensayos del canal de viento, se constató que estas películas reducen la resistencia por fricción en un seis a un ocho por ciento. De manera que se podría lograr un ahorro importante de combustible en un avión de larga distancia provisto de esta piel de tiburón.

Además, Airbus Industrie realizó pruebas de vuelo con un A 320 provisto de Riblets en sus timones laterales. El próximo paso previsto es operar en vuelos comerciales regulares con un A 340 de cuatro turbinas con su fuselaje parcialmente recubierto con la película.

Pero existe otra forma más de disminuir la resistencia inducida de un ala. El secreto de volar radica en que por la curvatura de un plano como la del ala de un pájaro se genera una baja presión y en la cara inferior se produce una presión inversa. En el extremo del ala, la compensación de presión produce un remolino marginal que roba energía. En un avión representa aproximadamente un tercio de la resistencia total.

Gracias a los extremos hábilmente abanicados de sus alas, las aves son capaces de transformar una parte de la energía del remolino en impulso. A pesar de estos avances, aún no se puede preveer si alguna vez será posible traducir ese ejemplo a un avión. Sin embargo, los científicos de la Universidad Técnica de Berlín encontraron rápidamente una aplicación de este concepto. Construyeron un concentrador de energía eólica y un molino de viento que, siguiendo el mismo principio, concentra una parte de la energía en el centro del rotor accionando allí un generador de gran velocidad y logrando gran efectividad.

Prácticamente, no hay área alguna de la técnica en la que la naturaleza con su gran imaginación no le pueda brindar al hombre ayuda para el desarrollo. En el caso del aprovechamiento de la energía solar, se podría aplicar la fotosíntesis de las plantas. El hidrógeno podría producirse no sólo por electrólisis sino también, en forma más económica y efectiva, por bacterias púrpura. Las biomoléculas de bacterias nos podrían proveer de células de materiales combustibles nuevos para generar energía eléctrica fría a partir del hidrógeno y del oxígeno.

La diversidad de especies de la naturaleza es en ese sentido una enorme reserva de ideas, que con cada especie extinguida se diluye cada vez más. Sin embargo, la biónica requiere de un poco de escepticismo científico. Pues el hombre siempre vuelve a tener ideas geniales como la rueda, que carecen de cualquier ejemplo natural.

En la imaginación humana se verifica una y otra vez la experiencia de Lilienthal. El estaba tan convencido de que el vuelo de las aves era el fundamento total del arte de volar, que pasó por alto completamente el desarrollo de la hélice como mecanismo propulsor.

Ideas que ante su obviedad necesitan del cambio de siglo para ser efectivamente descubiertas.




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