The deep-sea sponge’s ‘zero energy’ flow control could inspire new energy-efficient designs

The deep-sea sponge's 'zero energy' flow control could inspire new energy-efficient designs

(a) Calculation model for the study of passive ventilation in E. aspergillum. (b), (c) Side and top views of the four areas of the computational domain considered for the quantification of the flow characteristics. Credit: Physical Assessment Letters (2024). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.132.208402

The Venus flower basket sponge, with its delicate, glassy lattice-shaped outer skeleton, has long intrigued researchers to explain how the body of this fragile-looking creature can withstand the harsh conditions of the deep sea in which it lives.

Now, new research reveals yet another engineering feat of this ancient animal’s structure: its ability to filter food using only the weak ambient currents of the ocean’s depths, without the need for pumping.

This discovery of natural ‘zero-energy’ flow control by an international research team, co-led by the University of Rome Tor Vergata and the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, could help engineers design more efficient chemical reactors, air purification systems, heat exchangers, hydraulic systems. and aerodynamic surfaces.

In a study published in Physical Assessment Lettersthe team discovered through extremely high-resolution computer simulations how the skeletal structure of the Venus flower basket sponge (Euplectella aspergillum) redirects very slow deep-sea currents into the central body cavity so that it can feed on plankton and other marine debris. it filters out of the water.

The sponge extracts this via its spiral, ribbed outer surface that functions like a spiral staircase. This allows it to passively suck water up through its porous, lattice-like frame, all without the energy demands of pumping.

“Our research settles a debate that has arisen in recent years: the Venus flower basket sponge may be able to absorb nutrients passively, without any active pumping mechanism,” said Maurizio Porfiri, professor at the NYU Tandon Institute and director of the Center for Urban Science. + Progress (CUSP), who co-led and supervised the research. “It’s an incredible adaptation that allows this filter feeder to thrive in currents normally unsuitable for suspension feeding.”

At higher flow rates, the lattice structure helps reduce resistance for the organism. But it is in the near silence of the deep ocean floors that this natural ventilation system is most remarkable, demonstrating how well the sponge adapts to its harsh environment. The research found that the sponge’s ability to passively suck in food only works at the very low flow rates (just centimeters per second) of its habitat.

“From an engineering perspective, the skeletal system of the sponge shows remarkable adaptations to its environment, not only from a structural point of view, but also in terms of fluid dynamic performance,” says Giacomo Falcucci of Tor Vergata University of Rome and Harvard. University, the first author of the article.

Together with Porfiri, Falcucci led the study, supervised the research and designed the computer simulations. “The sponge has found an elegant solution for maximizing nutrient supply while working entirely through passive mechanisms.”

Researchers used the powerful Leonardo supercomputer at CINECA, a supercomputing center in Italy, to create a highly realistic 3D replica of the sponge, with approximately 100 billion individual points that mimic the sponge’s complex spiral edge structure. This ‘digital twin’ enables experiments that are impossible with living sponges, which cannot survive outside their deep-sea environment.

The team performed highly detailed simulations of the water flow around and within the computer model of the Venus flower basket sponge skeleton. With Leonardo’s enormous computing power, which enables billions of calculations per second, they were able to simulate a wide range of water flow speeds and conditions.

The researchers say the biomimetic engineering insights they discovered could help design more efficient reactors by optimizing flow patterns inside and minimizing drag outward. Similar ribbed, porous surfaces could improve air filtration and ventilation systems in skyscrapers and other structures. The asymmetrical, spiral edges can even inspire low-drag or hulls that remain streamlined while promoting interior airflow.

The study builds on the team’s previous research on Venus flower basket sponge, published in Nature in 2021, during which it revealed that it had created a first-ever simulation of the deep-sea sponge and how it interacts with and influences the flow of nearby water.

More information:
Giacomo Falcucci et al, Adaptation to the abyss: passive ventilation in the deep-sea glass sponge Euplectella aspergillum, Physical Assessment Letters (2024). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.132.208402

Provided by NYU Tandon School of Engineering

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