Sustainable building designs inspired from nest building termites: Preliminary study of the aero-thermodynamics of termite mounds

2016-2017 E²SHI Seed Grant

Research Team

Rajat Mittal
Dept of Mechanical Engineering, School of Engineering
Contact Dr. Mittal
Ciaran Harman
Assistant Professor
Dept of Environmental Health and Engineering, School of Engineering

Energy consumption has become a major concern in our rapidly growing world and buildings are among the top sectors that consume the most energy. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) accounts for the lion’s share of energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings worldwide. Doctors Mittal, Harman and Yaghoobian have teamed together to find new approaches to ventilation in buildings that may help to reduce energy consumption in buildings.

Looking through the lens of biomimicry, the team will use three-dimensional computational modeling to study the movement of gas and heat over and inside African termite mounds. Biomimicry is an approach that uses structures, systems and other relationships found in nature to address human challenges in a sustainable manner. It has wide ranging applications, such as analyzing the aerodynamics of humpback whales’ flippers to create efficient wind power or using the painless feature of mosquito bites to design medical needles that are less painful. In this case, the team is looking at aero-thermodynamics and gas exchange in the mount of the African termite Macrotermes michaelseni. This species of termites builds massive structures that are around 2–3 m height, which enclose a complex system of tunnels that manage the exchange of respiratory gases, generated inside the termite subterranean nest, with the outside.

But how do you peer inside the mound and gather this information? Enter the research team’s modeling to assess how the air flows outside and over the mound as well as the airflow, heat and mass transport inside the mounds’ complex structure. By using modeling tools, they hope to show how air circulation works in termite mounds, and in turn, inform bio-inspired design to naturally ventilate buildings and reduce energy consumption. 


Learn more about biomimicry from the Biomimicry Institute

AskNature arcticle on mound-building termites   

Bloomberg article highlights inventions inspired by nature 

A termite mound in Namibia. Photo credit: Schnobby

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.
— Chief Seattle