Bringing ideas to life.
Each year 5-10 finalists in the Open category of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge are invited to participate in the Biomimicry Accelerator program.
Designed to help biomimetic solutions advance beyond the concept stage, the Biomimicry Accelerator is an intensive year-long program during which teams continue to develop their design concepts and market strategy utilizing business training, mentorship, and legal support provided by the Institute and its partners. At the end of each Accelerator, one team is awarded the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize®, endowed by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.
US, Germany, Croatia | $100,000 Ray of Hope
Grand Prize Winner
Jacob Russo, Anamarija Frankic, C. Mike Lindsay
Nexloop, an international team with members from the US, Germany, and Croatia, won the 2017 Ray of Hope Prize for their AquaWeb innovation. The Grand Prize was awarded at the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California, in October 2017. Team NexLoop developed the AquaWeb to help urban local food producers collect, filter, store, and distribute atmospheric moisture with a modular, all-in-one water sourcing and management system. AquaWeb harnesses freely available rain and fog and uses passive strategies to distribute this water so that urban farms, including greenhouses, indoor vertical farms, and container farms, can save energy and become more resilient to disturbances. Each aspect of AquaWeb’s design was inspired by living systems. These include how cribellate orb weaver spider webs collect fog from the air, how drought-tolerant plants like the crystalline ice plant store water, and how mycorrhizal fungi like the Jersey cow mushroom distribute water. The team also looked to the dwarf honey bee’s hexagonal nest structure for AquaWeb’s efficient and modular design.
Quillota, Chile | $100,000 Ray of Hope™ Grand Prize Winner
Camila Hernández, Camila Gratacos, Victor Vicencio, Jean François Casal, Carlo Sabaini, Eduardo Gratacos
BioNurse, a team from the Ceres Regional Center for Fruit and Vegetable Innovation in Quillota, Chile, won the Ray of Hope Prize for their BioPatch innovation. The Grand Prize was awarded at the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California, in October 2016. The BioPatch provides a way to help new seedlings grow while restoring degraded soils back to health. It returns vitality to the soil by improving conditions for seedlings and exposing them to a mix of nutrients, microbiology and hygroscopic components. The BioPatch is fabricated with natural fibers and biodegrades after one season. The plants growing from it will be capable of reproducing the same conditions in a natural way and, after two or three seasons, the soil will be productive again. For the BioPatch innovation, the team was inspired by the way that hardy “nurse” plants establish themselves in degraded soils and pave the way for new plant species to grow. With 25% of the world’s soils degraded, this innovation provides a way to grow and protect new plants and ensure that the soil can be regenerated to feed our growing population.
The 2017 Accelerator cohort was selected from submissions to the 2017 Climate Change Challenge. Learn more about the 2017-2018 Accelerator teams below, or review the winners and finalists from previous Accelerators, which focused on food system innovations.
San Luis Obispo, CA, United States
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico
Bogotá, Colombia | Finalist
Syndy Dovale Farelo, Juan Sebastián Camacho Bastidas, Samuel Serna Wills, Christiaan Job Nieman
How can we improve indoor thermal comfort in Barranquilla's existing apartments while using energy efficiently? Is it possible to make cities like Barranquilla resilient to the global warming using renewable and freely available energy? Cooltiva is an active/passive climatization system that takes advantage of the wind and the sun to maintain comfort temperatures inside. The benefit of incorporating plants as a strategy to optimize air cooling creates spaces for reconnection with another kind of life. Cooltiva is a system that provides continues thermal comfort using the minimal amount of electrical energy and taking advantage of the climatic conditions like the wind in cities with the hot and moist weather. With Cooltiva the electrical invoice can have an important reduction. This also means low down the emissions of greenhouse gases produced in the conventional electrical generation.We want Cooltiva to become more than a product on a platform to empower people and create a community that can have a positive impact in our world. The activities and care of the plants can create links between members of Cooltiva’s community and also can create bonds with nature while making our homes fresh and beautiful. The Cooltiva system is mostly thought for residents of cities, with similar weather conditions of Barranquilla (Colombia), principally the ones that live in small spaces like apartments. Mainly middle strata men or women who spend most of their time indoors and want to include plants in their homes and lives.
San Luis Obispo, CA, US | Finalist
Megan Hanck, Kristin Fauske, Anna Laird
This team looked to how nature captures carbon dioxide to create a carbon-scrubbing panel system that can be applied to buildings and other existing infrastructure along freeways and main streets. Inspired by how Phragmites australis, also known as the common reed, distributes air by moving it through different sized hollow stems, this design extracts airborne carbon dioxide by drawing it through reed-like entrances and exits and passing it through a carbon scrubber. The carbon scrubber collects and stores carbon, improving air quality in dense urban environments.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | Finalist
Brazilian history is closely linked to the Atlantic rain forest, which has a great biodiversity and provides a number of forest essential services to the sustainability of ecosystems. As a consequence of the historical process of degradation of the original 130 million hectares, only 28 million are still preserved in fragments. 17 million are unproductive and abandoned, and are the center of designated ecological restoration.Given the high level of degradation and low resilience of these areas, human intervention is essential for the regeneration of the forest. This will allow, as close as possible, to return to natural eco-systems, in terms of their structure and operation.Based on the theories of natural succession and techniques of nucleation, the Nucleário project is a geoengineering concept of restoration ecology in degraded areas, aiming at large scale with minimum maintenance and maximum efficiency. Produced on an industrial scale and made of biodegradable materials, it is designed to meet multiple functions including providing a barrier from the leaf cut ants, accumulation of water, shade for seedlings, protection against invasive species, easy storage and deployment from the air.In order to turn those 17 million hectares of unproductive and abandoned areas into forest again, Nucleário Project is funded in partnership with government and major sponsors. The NAU (Nucleário assembly units) will stay in each region until the Nucleários have been dispersed in the environment by helicopters. The dispersal strategy follows a GIS plan (Geographic Information System) developed by a multidisciplinary technical team. With the growth of the Nucleários the forest fragments begin to interconnect and exchange genetic material, moving towards a dynamic balance independently of human action.
Taipei, Taiwan | Finalist
Alban Yau, Chia-Hung Hung, Hung Jen Lin, Hao-Nien Chen, Wei-Ting Wu, Ching-Yuen Liu, Tsung-Yi Lin
Human activities have increased global Greenhouse Gas and changed the hydrologic cycle, atmospheric circulation and temperature, leading to decrease in regional precipitation and the persistence of atmospheric stagnation. These have weakened the natural mechanism of removing PM2.5 particles in the air. The average PM2.5 levels in Taiwan now is two times more than WHO standards, inducing health concerns such as lung cancer or even death. Especially in the urban areas of Taiwan, due to the super high population and vehicle density, commuters are exposed to higher health risks when on the road daily. Seeing these problems, we looked into nature and asked, “How does nature actively collect micro particles?” Gaining inspiration from the mechanisms of salps, baleen whales, Aftrican violet’s trichomes leaves, REFISH was born. It is a PM2.5 collector that can be attached on any moving vehicle. By leveraging on the movement of vehicles to generate air flow into the collector module, REFISH can capture PM2.5 on the road without requiring electricity and motors to pump air like typical air purifiers. We hope with this low cost design, we can inspire commuters to shift into a more eco-friendly behavior and bring fresh air back to the road.
Ciudad de Mexico, Mexico | Finalist
Mauricio Ramirez, Daniela Esponda, Maria Luisa Gutierrez, Claudia Rivera, Joseph McIlwain
Until humans can rely completely on clean renewable energy, we must minimize the burning of fossil fuels thereby minimizing the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. In an effort to make a meaningful impact on climate change, we have honed in on a specific and large energy use: medium/high-rise commercial buildings. More specifically, their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. About 60% of buildings' energy consumption is allocated to heating and cooling systems. Currently, HVAC systems are incredibly wasteful in terms of energy consumption.In hopes of finding an innovative solution, we've asked the question, "How does nature thermoregulate?” After much research, we discovered that all large complex organisms that maintain homeostatic temperatures have one key commonality: a circulatory system. Circulatory systems allow these organisms to fine tune their heat management system by providing a system that can adapt to various thermal conditions. We propose a design that mimics the qualities of circulatory systems such as dissipating excess heat, rapidly distributing heat throughout the body, harvesting heat from external sources, and utilizing internally generated heat. More specifically, water flowing through pipes controlled by an automated smart network of low-speed pumps, valves, and sensors could efficiently manage heating and cooling in a building. In hot conditions, heat would be routed to designated heat sinks on the building's surface. In cold conditions, the system would harvest both internally and externally available heat and distribute it to systems or spaces that need it. In conservative energy model scenarios, we have reached 20% reduction of energy consumption with low investment. We identified possible partners for further development. This is a simple and elegant solution to reduce climate change NOW. It also provides a solid platform for future improvements by applying the Biomimicry Thinking Method to each of the system’s components.
The current Accelerator cohort was selected from submissions to the 2016 Food Systems Challenge. Learn more about the 2016-2017 Accelerator teams below, or review the winners and finalists from the 2015-2016 Accelerator, which also focused on Food Systems.
La Jolla, California, U.S.A.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Bogotá, Colombia | Design concept First Prize winner
María José Leaño, Paula Esguerra, Laura Mancera, Brandon Sandoval
B-all is a sustainable, edible food packaging system, designed to protect food in the journey from producer to consumer. The team’s goal is to create a special coating, derived from kitchen produce, that can be easily applied to a spherical nutritious b-all, which will preserve it intact until it reaches the consumer. The b-all is designed to be integrated into a whole food system, using local, abundant ingredients and traditional recipes. Inspired by protective functions of beetles and certain fruits like the pittosporum undulatum, the b-all will have a special double peel coating, with a foam-like layer covered by an impermeable varnish-type layer. It can be used to fulfill local and immediate needs, supply nourishment to communities, and help in emergency situations.
Brescia, Italy | Design concept Second Prize winner
Ambra Venturini, Giuliana Gheza
ShareEET (formerly Concept (non)Restaurant) is a meta-project that aims to shift attitudes about food waste and our disposable culture using natural models as inspiration. The team behind ShareEET created a (non)restaurant with limited local and seasonal resources to feed 10 people over 365 days. ShareEET shows that if you eat or buy more than you need, there will be no food or resources left for the (non)restaurant to “survive.” If sustainable choices are made however, the restaurant will stay alive, demonstrating that personal choices have an impact on the larger community. The team behind ShareEET looked to nature to discover how living organisms collaborate in order to share resources equally, getting inspiration from how mycorrhizal fungi help exchange carbon, nutrients, and water between plants, among others. They also learned how living organisms change their behavior in the face of a challenge, like how whales and monkeys transmit culture through emulation. The aim of ShareEET is to demonstrate the impact of individual actions within the system to inspire people to see food as energy - rather than an object – and to be more aware about the amount of food needed for the self and the community.
La Jolla, California, U.S.A. | Design concept Third Prize winner
Cameron Ravanbach, Cliff Kapono, Jack Bernstein, Luca De Vivo
Inspired by microbial communities, specifically cyanobacteria, a team from UC San Diego have developed ANSA, a hydroponic growing system that effectively uses space, consumes less water, and eliminates the use of soil while maintaining nutrient quality and bringing healthy food closer to homes. Mimicking cyanobacteria’s “food”-producing photosynthetic inner membrane, the team designed a multi-compartmental growing space that uses solar powered LED lights as the primary energy source. The design extracts nutrients from compost through a series of filters where the nutrients are then used to feed the multi-layer, poly-culture hydroponic unit. By reducing the need for constant water input, synthetic fertilizers, and fossil fuel, ANSA will provide an economical, sustainable, and readily accessible way to provide healthy and organic food for populations with limited resources, including communities affected by natural disaster, political displacement, social disparities, and compromised living conditions.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada | Design concept First Prize Student winner 2015
Jorge Zapote, Mitchell Weber, Xi Cheng, Michelle Zhou
Our design concept aims to take on the problem of food stores spoiling in areas with poor access to electricity. The goals of our alternate food preservation unit are to not require an electricity grid, to be significantly less expensive than a modern refrigeration methods and to be able to be incorporated into the regions of poverty where it is most needed. The cooling mechanism is inspired by temperature regulation approaches seen in mammals and insects and is a new way of approaching issues in the food system. Coral and termites inspired the first step, kangaroos, bees, and elephants the second, and lastly meerkats and burrowing animals and leaves the third. In our process an intake structure passively draws in warm ambient air and injects it via the venture effect into a pipe. The second step delivers the air into the evaporation chamber, where the pipe is immersed in a fluid. The fluid evaporating from around pipe cools the inside air and lastly the third step involves the cooled air entering the refrigeration chamber where food is stored. By emulating nature and creating conditions conducive to life we believe we have come up with a project can change the world of those who need it.
New York City, U.S.A. | 2017 Ray of Hope Prize winner
Jacob Russo, Stephanie Newcomb, Alexa Nicolas, Anamarija Frankic, Dale Clifford
Nexloop makes it possible for city-dwellers to capture, store, and distribute rainwater for a hydroponic growing system, right from their own windows. By retrofitting multistory residential building facades to harness rainwater for irrigation, the Nexloop team aims to increase small-scale, hyper-local urban food production that operates independently from the city water grid, and increases the visibility of food system processes. The main system components are a horizontal module and vertical membrane that utilize superhydrophobic and superhydrophilic surfaces inspired by plants like the Sacred lotus and the Brazilian wild petunia, and capillary action inspired by ice plant bladder cells to channel water to indoor spaces. A system inspired by mycorrhizal fungi within the module passively delivers water to the organic roots of edible plants. The team’s ultimate vision is a food-water nexus capable of sustainable, closed-loop urban living.
Laura Cussen, Aníbal Fuentes Palacios, Carla Muttoni, Francisco Humeres, Jose Hernández, Paolma González Rojas, Agustina González Cid
Slant is an app that enables people to share information about quality food sources by mimicking the communication and interaction system of ants. In ant colonies, individual actions lead to better collective decisions about how the colony finds food, based on the quality, reliability, and availability of resources. Using this approach, Slant allows you to make decisions informed by the decisions of those around you. Similarly to how foraging ants leave pheromone trails, a user can leave a mark within a range of intensity depending of the quality of the food source and how sustainably it was produced. People can find food in all different places, from local mom-and-pop shops, to a plum tree down the block. This information is transformed in a very simple visualization, which is then assigned to that location, like a pheromone. These pheromones are added across the landscape to visualize higher and lower concentrations of marked areas and direct people to quality food sources. Slant aims to coordinate actions between users to make the entire consumption and distribution system more efficient, lowering food waste, and showcasing local food sources and products.
Eugene, OR, USA | Prototype finalist; design concept First Prize winner
Casey Howard, Matthew Jorgensen, Wade Hanson, Krisztian Megyeri, Alison Lewis
The earthworm’s digestive system and the human small intestine inspired this team from University of Oregon to develop a biomimetic drainage system that keeps nutrients in the soil rather than leaving the field in runoff. After farmers apply fertilizer, nutrients often enter the surrounding water system through surface runoff or by leaching through the soil into the ground water. This process leads to nutrient accumulation in nearby lakes and streams which then concentrates in rivers like the Mississippi, and is deposited in the Gulf of Mexico and other estuaries. The Living Filtration System is an alternative drainage tiling system that was designed to serve as a catalyst for changing current farming techniques. The team’s design captures nitrogen, phosphorous, and other nutrients at the source of application in farm fields, using an overlapping series of four tubes. The first layer is a wood-plastic composite that mimics the curves of the human small intestine to slow water flow, and the second, carbon-based, layer uses farm waste like corn husks and wood debris to filter out nutrients from runoff, just like the way earthworms filter nutrients from the soil. The next two layers capture nutrients and enable beneficial relationships to develop between soil microbes and plant roots. By keeping the nutrients from leaching out of the soil, the LFS system not only cleans the water leaving the fields, but also decreases the amount of fertilizer needed and improves soil health over time.
Bankok, Thailand | Prototype third prize winner; design concept second prize winner
Pat Pataranutaporn, Ratchaphak Tantisanghirun, Purichaya Kuptajit, Tavita Kulsupakarn, Alfredo Raphael
Edible insects may be one of the answers to our global food crisis. They are high in protein and rich in essential micronutrients, such as iron and zinc. They also don’t need as much space as livestock, emit lower levels of greenhouse gases, and have an extremely high feed conversion rate. The BioX team from Thailand developed Jube, a bio-inspired chamber for capturing edible insects, the food of the future. After studying a range of carnivorous plants, the team decided to base their design on the Genlisea violacea “lobster-pot trap.” This is a Y-shaped modified leaf chamber that is easy to enter, but not to exit due to its inward-pointing hair, which force the prey to move in a particular direction. To use Jube, the user puts insect food into the bottom part of the device to lure the insects. Once the insects follow the odor and step into Jube, they can’t turn back. This device promotes a more sustainable way to incorporate protein and nutrients into the world’s diet by offering an insect-capturing device that is unique and beautifully crafted.
Quillota, Chile | Prototype Ray of Hope Grand Prize winner; design concept third prize winner
Camila Hernández, Camila Gratacos, Nicolas Orellana, Victor Vicencio, Jean François Casal, Carlo Sabaini, Eduardo Gratacos
A team from the Ceres Regional Center for Fruit and Vegetable Innovation in Chile has created a new way to not only help new seedlings grow, but restore degraded soils back to health. The BioNurse returns vitality to the soil by improving conditions for seedlings and exposing them to a mix of nutrients, microbiology and hygroscopic components. It is fabricated with natural fibers and biodegrades after one season. The plants growing from it will be capable of reproducing the same conditions in a natural way and, after two or three seasons, the soil will be productive again. For the BioNurse, the team was inspired by the way that hardy “nurse” plants establish themselves in degraded soils and pave the way for new plant species to grow. With 25% of the world’s soils degraded, this innovation provides a way to grow and protect new plants and ensure that the soil can be regenerated to feed our growing population.
Zvolen, Slovakia | Prototype finalist; design concept People’s Choice Award winner
Zuzana Tončíková, Miroslav Chovan, David Jurik, Frantisek Toth, David Lopusek
A team from Zvolen, Slovakia, devised a self-sustaining system to help city-dwellers grow their own organic food, right on their balconies. In many Central European cities, organic food is expensive and hard to find and most residents don’t have access to yards or gardens to grow their own produce. Team B4D (Biomimicry for Design) developed the BIOCultivator (formerly the Balcony Cultivator) to enable anyone to grow healthy food, without being a gardening expert. TheBIOCultivator design was inspired by the ability of some lizard species living in arid areas to collect water and moisture with their skin. TheBIOCultivator draws moisture from a composting feature at the bottom of the device, where it develops into condensation in the top “cupola” of the design. The water then is directed to the plants’ roots via channels (or microstructures) on the inside of the cupola that are designed to mimic a lizard’s scales. Not only does this device provide a way to grow food for those without access to green space, but it offers an alternative growing solution for drought-prone areas.
Brescia, Italy | Prototype finalist
Alessandro Bianciardi, Alessandro Zecca, Alessandro Villa, Giulia Villa, Edoardo Pini, Tiziana Tomasello
This Italian team looked to mangroves and salt marshes for inspiration to address land degradation and water scarcity in coastal areas. Their design is a desalinating solar still that is optimized to produce fresh water for irrigation and costs five times less than traditional solar stills. The team’s goal was to develop a more sustainable, lower-cost way to produce fresh water in arid/semi-arid coastal areas, since current technologies for desalinating seawater are expensive, especially to generate enough water to irrigate coastal farmlands. To inform their design, the team looked at mangroves and salt marshes to learn about how these pioneering species establish themselves in coastal areas, then pave the way for other species to appear. They envision that a network of Mangrove Stills installed in a degraded, arid area could produce enough water revitalize the land and kick off a self-perpetuating microclimate. The Mangrove Still’s design optimizes light capture, surface to volume ratio, and thermoregulation to create a lower-cost and efficient method of desalinating seawater, built with recyclable, reusable materials. The still can be assembled quickly and utilized for emergency response to provide drinking water or treating polluted water.
Ann Arbor, Michigan | Prototype second prize winner
Michelle Leach, Jacquelyn Smith Hernandez Ortiz
This team, based in Michigan and Central America, has created a small aquaponics system that is designed for radical affordability. The Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System helps subsistence farmers grow better food sustainably (using less space, less water, and no chemicals), improve nutrition, and generate income. Aquaponics is the co-culture of fish and vegetables in a recirculating biofilter-based system. Fish waste feeds the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. This symbiotic relationship allows more food to be grown in a smaller area and with less water than traditional aquaculture or horticulture can support. The design team previously prototyped two aquaponic systems for use in rural Central America, but wanted to find a way to dramatically reduce the cost. Applying lessons from nature, they refined their design to reduce structural mass and materials by employing an inflatable ring, The Oasis Aquaponic Food Production System is a solar-powered aquaponics system capable of producing at minimum 200 pounds of Tilapia and 200 pounds of tomatoes or other vegetables annually. With a projected retail price of $100, and a business model that provides low-interest purchasing credit, the system is radically affordable and accessible.
Milan, Italy | Prototype finalist
Felipe Hernández, Germán Hernández, Luca Rossettini, Jorge Armando Céspedes Camacho, Patricia Villa-Roel
Team Hexagro from Italy has created a “groundless” growing system that gives people the opportunity to grow healthy food on a small footprint. Hydroponic systems often use synthetic materials and tend to work as closed systems. In comparison, Hexagro is made of recyclable, biodegradable materials and has a unique, hexagonal shape that was inspired by geometric patterns found in nature. Hexagro is modular and can adapt easily to a range of urban spaces. Four times more efficient than traditional farming techniques, Hexagro’s modular tree can produce a total of 342 lettuce plants per 2 square meters in comparison to traditional ground farming, which can produce 80 lettuce plants per 2 square meters. Its automatic irrigation system provides programmed cycles that adapt to the time of the day and season, preventing plants from drying or being overfed by nutrients. A digital application will be developed in order to connect the system to smartphones.