The Biomimicry Institute has revealed this year’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge finalists, and the results offer direction for solving grand problems with new, innovative approaches to the way we make things. By combining human ingenuity with nature’s genius, these projects show us that the possibilities are infinite. After multiple rounds of judging, these aspiring change makers were chosen as the strongest nature-inspired design solutions addressing an array of critical global issues. From tackling air, water, and noise pollution to fostering resilient communities and food systems, each of these 10 finalist teams has addressed one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their pursuit of creating positive change.
Each year, dozens of interdisciplinary teams of university students and professionals from around the world submit their innovative designs to the Challenge, and 2020 was no exception. Despite the obstructions presented by COVID-19, from mandates for sheltering in place to requirements for working remotely, this year’s Challenge saw a 75% increase in participants from 2019. Overall, the Challenge garnered submissions from 81 student teams from 43 universities, as well as 26 teams of professionals, from 17 countries in total. Judging proved difficult with so many compelling submissions, so the judges awarded Honorable Mention status to four additional projects.
The 2020 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge called for focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a way to align with international efforts toward climate action and sustainability. This collection of 17 global goals was created to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They address the global challenges we all face, while providing a shared framework for working toward solutions. This year’s Challenge garnered 50% of submissions addressing SDG GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and more than a quarter of submissions addressed the following SDGs: GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being; GOAL 13: Climate Action; GOAL 14: Life Below Water; and GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.
Here are this year’s finalist teams:
A Sensitive Wall — Increasing traffic noise and rising heat caused by climate change negatively affect 55% of the global population living in urban areas. Inspired by concave-eared torrent frogs, mimosa leaves, and desert snails, this team designed a green noise barrier and sunshade system that aims to improve urban living conditions by providing a dynamic natural sound proofing system and elevation greenery to urban landscapes.
BottleBricks — BottleBricks was designed to address the growing problem of lack of adequate housing for refugees in camps. Mimicking the triangular corrugated shape of Saharan silver ant hairs and still air trapped within silk cocoons, along with the interlocking structure of nacre (mother of pearl), this interlocking bottle system can be used to improve existing shelters to better protect against cold, warm, and wet weather conditions.
ELIGHTRA — Powered by solar panels that are protected by hard outer shells like a ladybug’s elytra, or wing cases, ELIGHTRA is an environmentally-friendly lighting design that helps build resilient communities. This innovative, community-focused solution could provide light and energy to refugees living in “temporary” camps, bringing displaced peoples together within temporary settlements.
Methanolite — Human contributions to methane emissions often overwhelm natural methane sinks and contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. This team from the University of Calgary is working to tackle this problem head-on by emulating the way certain bacteria (methanotrophs) metabolize methane. Methanolite converts methane to methanol through the use of a zeolite catalyst without the emission of carbon dioxide.
MyOak Public Market — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team that created MyOak Public Market asked how they could cultivate a more connected and responsive food system network to ensure food access during times of crisis. Inspired by the Chesapeake Forest in their own backyard, they designed a reciprocal online platform to increase food access for vulnerable populations as well as the economic potential of local food producers.
nutriBarrier — Agricultural runoff is a major source of excess nutrients in waterways that can lead to harmful algal blooms and oxygen depletion. nutriBarrier is designed to be deployed around crops to reduce this runoff while also ensuring a slow release of fertilizer. Made from materials inspired by the protective strategies of hagfish and frogs, this barrier can be woven around individual plants in a helix pattern, using materials economically while protecting and watering each plant.
Pranavayu — Mimicking the slender shape of floral stamens along with the electrical and structural properties of a spiderweb, Pranavayu is an air filtration system designed to improve the health and livelihoods of rickshaw drivers in Delhi, India. This filter’s electrostatically charged metal meshes are designed to optimize the capture of pollutants, allowing the driver to breathe clean air.
RICOCHET — The WHO associates ambient air pollution from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) with a broad spectrum of acute and chronic illness; and in 2016, it was responsible for 4.2 million deaths globally. RICOCHET aims to reduce PM2.5 by improving current particulate matter filters used on vehicles. With its manta-mimicking structure, RICOCHET resists clogging, consumes low energy, and possesses high filtering efficiency at the same time.
The SINC — Many communities in Northern Canada suffer from a lack of clean drinking water, and this issue of water insecurity disproportionately affects Indigenous Canadians. Inspired by the countercurrent heat exchange system found in trout and the beard lichen’s water collection process, the SINC (Sustainable Ice Nucleation Contraption) is an outdoor water collection system designed for northern communities affected by water scarcity.
Tubes, Blades, and Mesh, Oh My! — Noting that coastal regions are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to storm intensification and rising sea levels, this team from Northeastern University designed novel seawall retrofits to improve coastal resiliency. Taking inspiration from seagrass and mangroves, this three-part design can be tailored to conditions at a specific location.
"There is much to be upset about these days, but then you see nature-inspired design pouring forth from over a dozen countries, and you realize that hope still abounds," says Executive Director Beth Rattner. "When I see the caliber and breadth of what these teams have created, I realize our main job at the Biomimicry Institute is to amplify their strong signal."
Looking for creative nature-inspired solutions to a problem in your industry? Contact Michelle Graves, Director, Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and Launchpad, to learn more about being a sponsor for the 2021 Challenge.
And if you’d like to participate in next year’s Challenge, sign up here to receive details and updates. For more information about all the programs and news from the Biomimicry Institute, http://biomimicry.org.
About the Biomimicry Institute
The Biomimicry Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization founded in 2006 that empowers people to seek nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet. To advance the solution process, the Institute offers AskNature.org, a free online tool that contains strategies found in nature and examples of ways they are used in design. It also hosts a Biomimicry Global Design Challenge and Youth Design Challenge to support project-based education; a Biomimicry Launchpad program and Ray of Hope Prize® for entrepreneurship to bring designs to market; and connects innovators through the Global Biomimicry Network.
Biomimicry Institute, Communications Director