Soil restoration innovation wins $100,000 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Ray of Hope Prize™

A Chilean team has won the first Ray C. Anderson Foundation $100,000 grand prize for a nature-inspired solution that creates healthy soil.

A team from the Ceres Regional Center for Fruit and Vegetable Innovation in Chile has won the first-ever $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize™ in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, an international design competition and accelerator program that crowdsources nature-inspired solutions to big sustainability challenges, such as climate change, food system issues, water management, and alternative energy. Approximately 25 percent of the world’s soil is degraded, and the winning concept provides a new way to protect seedlings and restore soils back to health. The prize was announced at the National Bioneers Conference today. The second place winner was the Oasis Aquaponic System from Central America. Third place was Jube from Thailand.

“The judges were impressed with the way that the BioNurse team utilized biomimicry on multiple levels," said John A. Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. "Moreover, we believe in their potential to commercialize and scale the concept to achieve a significant impact in areas of the world where farming is limited due to poor soil."

The BioNurse team has created the BioPatch, a biomimicry solution that enhances soil’s capacity to retain water, nutrients, and microorganisms so that degraded land is restored for the next generation of crops. The container is fabricated from corn stalks, utilizing a resource that otherwise would be burned as waste, and biodegrades after one season. The team has demonstrated that the plants growing within it will be capable of reproducing the same conditions in a natural way and, after one year, the soil will be productive again. Watch this video for more information about the BioPatch.

The BioNurse team was inspired by the way that hardy “nurse” plants like the yareta (a type of cushion plant) establish themselves in degraded soils and pave the way for new plant species to grow. By mimicking biological principles, their design innovation provides a way to grow and protect new plants and ensure that the soil can be regenerated to feed our world’s growing population.

“These solutions prove that we can feed ourselves in ways that purify water, repair soil, and lift communities,” said Biomimicry Institute co-founder Janine Benyus. “Biomimicry tends to lead to multifunctional solutions, ones that multiply goodness. It’s a fitting legacy for Ray Anderson, a man who pioneered ‘doing well by doing good.’”

This design concept round of the Biomimicry Institute’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge asked participants to tackle any aspect of the food system that could be improved by looking to nature for design guidance. Submissions covered a wide range of related issues, like waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, energy use, and other solutions.

The Ceres Regional Center for Fruit and Vegetable Innovation team was one of seven teams chosen to enter the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Accelerator program in October 2015. They spent the past year developing a working prototype with the help of biomimicry experts and business mentors in order to create viable, market-ready solutions. For the development of the material of BioPatch, the team has been working with the laboratory of creativity and Innovation of the University Diego Portales, (LincUDP). A full list of the finalists’ submissions can be found here. The Biomimicry Accelerator program creates a commercialization platform for biomimicry entrepreneurs to bring needed sustainability solutions to market faster.

“The Biomimicry Institute’s goal with this challenge was to prove that looking to nature will yield more effective solutions than we humans can conceive on our own,” said Institute Executive Director Beth Rattner. “Team BioNurse demonstrates this beautifully, showing how the partnership between human ingenuity and biological models can result in a truly breakthrough innovation that can change lives. There is no better place to unveil this winner than Bioneers, which has accurately predicted ‘what’s next’ for 25 years.”

As an added bonus to this year's program, and due to the high quality and viability of all of the finalist projects, the trustees of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation awarded $20,000 to the Oasis Aquaponic System (2nd Place), $15,000 to the Jube team (3rd Place), and $10,000 each to the four other finalist teams.

The National Bioneers Conference, held this year from October 21-23, 2016, is a yearly gathering of dynamic changemakers dedicated to solving our world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. This year, in addition to the Ray of Hope Prize award event, the conference featured biomimicry pioneer and visionary Janine Benyus as a keynote speaker.

“With climate disruption upon us, and a swelling population, transforming our food and water systems is paramount,” said Kenny Ausubel, co-founder and CEO of Bioneers. “But success will require more than just technical solutions. It necessitates a shift in our worldview, and a change of heart. We are so deeply honored to host this landmark event, and to continue our long partnership to make biomimicry the default position for design, industry, economy, and culture by 2020.”

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has just launched, which is another opportunity for teams to join and compete for the annual $100,000 “Ray of Hope” Prize. This year’s focus is “Climate Change: Reversal, Adaptation, and Mitigation.” Individuals and teams can learn more about the Challenge at