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Birds Fight Global Warming

September 10, 2013

The highly efficient lungs of birds are inspiring climate-friendly carbon-capturing filters.



Avian-inspired carbon capture. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bar-headed geese are some of the highest altitude fliers in the world. Birds require large amounts of oxygen to fly, but their lungs have to make the most of low oxygen levels at high altitudes. (Sergey Pisarevskiy/Flickr)

In the future, cars and factories may be equipped with carbon-dioxide capturing filters inspired by the highly efficient lungs of birds. This according to UC Irvine chemist Aaron Esser-Kahn.


Animals on this planet figured out how to maximize the surface area to volume ratio of a structure. And the bird’s lung is the sort of pinnacle of this evolutionary process. Over a great deal of time, birds have had to fly higher and higher, which means that they have less oxygen concentration in their lungs, but, of course the metabolic demand of powered flight is very high. So, at the same time they’re using a tremendous amount of oxygen and they have very little oxygen available to them so they had to optimize their lung.


Using bird lungs as a model, his team has designed filters that squeeze as much carbon dioxide absorbing material into the smallest possible surface area. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.