Announcing the 2021 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge Finalists

The Biomimicry Institute has selected 12 finalist teams creating solutions to address the Sustainable Development Goals, all inspired by nature.

The Biomimicry Institute is proud to announce this year’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge finalists, an international group of 12 teams that have created ideas inspired by nature’s intelligence aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Global problems need local solutions, and this group of finalists demonstrate the wide-ranging opportunities biomimicry can offer — challenges related to flooding and evacuation from unexpected storms, water filtration efficiency, heavy metal and light pollution, as well as various adaptations to a warming climate.

This year the Challenge garnered submissions from 92 teams across 26 countries. 58% of submissions addressed 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 6: Clean Water & Sanitation; GOAL 13: Climate Action; and GOAL 14: Life Below Water.

“The submissions and selected finalists for this year’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge show that innovators from around the world are focused on solving local climate problems by learning from the adaptations and resilience of local organisms and ecosystems,” said Jared Yarnall-Schane, Biomimicry Institute’s Entrepreneurship Director. “The finalists were selected based upon their biomimicry designs, and the potential for their solutions to solve real world challenges.”

Without further ado, the Biomimicry Institute is proud to introducing this year’s finalist projects for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge:

DELight — In addressing the problem of artificial light at night, which disrupts the circadian rhythm and natural functions of organisms and ecosystems, DElight devised a solution to address common design flaws from existing lighting structures. Inspired by the firefly, Saharan silver ant, and lobster, this multifunctional design emulates nanostructures that efficiently transmit light, guides that light where it is useful (thereby diminishing unnecessary pollution), reduces glare, and incorporates cooling mechanisms. The design ensures that no light is emitted above a 6³⁰ angle, uses total internal reflection to create an indirect lighting source, and ultimately decreases significant light pollution and health problems created by streetlights. (Utrecht, Netherlands)

DRYLGAE — This bio-inspired seaweed dryer was inspired by the camel’s nose, which has an amazing dehumidifying system, the Hercules beetle, which has a body composed of a micro-scale 3D chitin network that enables water absorption, and the moth’s eye nanostructure formation that is efficient at collecting light. These combined strategies create a dry and hot air flow that passively reduces seaweed water content, while preserving the active components, such as vitamins, lipids, and other bioactive molecules. The simple, user-friendly solution relies solely on bio-inspired passive mechanisms to warm-up and dehumidify the air intake. Therefore, it drastically reduces the energy consumption in the seaweed drying process, while delivering a high quality product with an extended shelf life. (Switzerland, China)

E-Colant.Net — Approximately 21 million people worldwide are affected by river floods every year. In order to build an efficient and sustainable river facility, the E-Colant.Net unit balances river erosion and sediment accumulation, improves the adhesion of plants and soil, and increases water permeability. The solution was Inspired by the pattern arrangement of shark fins, plants’ water filtration structures, and the gills of tilapia. The design provides resilience of the river channel when floods hit, increases filterability, provides biological habitat, and increases ecological diversity. The multi-level river terrace public space design also allows residents to reconnect with the river’s natural elements. (Taichung City, Taiwan)

ECO-Serve — Access to fresh drinking water is becoming more challenging worldwide. ECO-Serve is a passive filtration process to harvest atmospheric water in both humid and arid climates, inspired by fish gills, leaf cutter ants’ mounds, and a few desert-specialist plants. The design includes water-harvesting pods that are composed of a double-layer insulated dome with conical top vents, atmospheric water-harvesting combs, inner flow channels, and a central cistern. In a dynamic filtration network sequence, the ECO-serve provides water to people and the planet, from drinking, sanitation, and agriculture to restoring the aquifers and replenishing various ecosystems in a regenerative way. (San Francisco, CA, USA)

ENTR — ENTR is an online webbing tool designed for innovation hubs involved in the energy transition. Inspired by organisms that create mutualistic relationships and feedback loops, ENTR’s main feature is an interactive map of activities in which all previous actions taken in the energy transition in the Netherlands are documented by hubs themselves. The idea is to visualize the strategies and reflect on the outcomes of each action. By creating this visualization, hubs are able to see what strategies were effective in the past, as well as which strategies should not be repeated — thereby seeking to close the feedback loop on what’s working to improve efficiency and effectiveness when planning their projects in the energy transition. (Den Haag, Netherlands)

Hydro-Canopy Facade System — In a warming climate, many areas are offering residents two options to adapt to survive: air conditioning (which can be unaffordable) and migration. The HydroCanopy offers a low-cost, high-efficiency architectural façade system solution that responds to climatic conditions using passive control strategies that regulate solar radiation, ventilation, thermal inertia, and offers an evaporative cooling system. The design was inspired by two shared characteristics of local organisms of the unique tropical dry forest in La Guajira. The mucous glands in the epidermis of some frogs and toads and the dynamic gradient of density and size of leaves in the canopy of trees both have a system of gradient layers used to regulate temperature, capture and store water, take advantage of solar radiation, and protect themselves from the wind. The team sought a positive economic and social solution by creating HydroCanopy to respond to the need for affordability and flexibility for its production and mass replicability, using low-cost, locally available materials designed for easy implementation and local adaptation. (Bogotá, Colombia)

Insu-Ram — The buildings in La Guajira, especially housing, present structural and thermal comfort problems due to the current construction materials and the underutilization of available resources in the area. Insu-ram is a system of assemblable clay blocks inspired by the cells in the elytra, or hardened wing covers, of certain beetles that allow internal air flow to circulate. Insu-ram cools and insulates a space from external heat without the use of machines and incorporates local biodegradable materials, such as rammed earth, clay, and manure to eliminate the concept of waste. The external pattern of the block generates a micro-shading effect and reduces the solar contact surface. It can be produced locally, at a low cost, is easy to replicate, and helps to solve the housing deficit in the area, while offering a way to build thermally comfortable houses in a fast, cheap, and efficient way. (Bogotá, Colombia)

MicroBergy — 24-hour water quality monitoring is key in reducing illegal dumping of toxic heavy metal pollution, and yet it’s expensive and requires significant power supply. MicroBergy is an economical, sustainable, self-powered water quality monitor that generates electrical signals from the pollutants in wastewater. Inspired by the curve of a shark tail fin, the sea snail’s shell spiral, sea anemones’ electrodes, and the barnacle’s shape, the design mimics these forms and then uses bacteria to generate the electrical signals that make this technology self-powered. Without the restrictions of expense and power supply, MicroBergy can be installed in places where existing 24-hour water quality monitors cannot, increasing the capacity for monitoring water quality and illegal dumping of toxic pollutants. (Taipei, Taiwan)

MOL — Wax moth caterpillars can eat plastic, leading to interesting sustainability applications. The MOL team is looking to selectively breed wax moth caterpillars to become more efficient plastic decomposers. Additionally, the team of scientists are studying the enzymes that allow the larvae to break down the plastic, and they aim to artificially synthesize the compound for use in chemical recycling. By working with and learning from wax moth caterpillars, MOL has a potential solution to the plastic crisis. (Lviv, Ukraine)

PURAERA — The PURAERA design uses a mucus-inspired hydrogel to capture air pollutants from the air in metro transit systems. Within the London Underground, particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution comes from the wear and tear of the rails, which is a result of braking. The biodegradable hydrogel is placed on the walls of train lines inside stations to allow for the best capture of pollutants harming human health. While specifically designed for the conditions of the London Underground, a few small adjustments can recreate the solution in similar situations. (Utrecht, Netherlands)

Re-Leaf: A Modular Emergency Raft — Current flood protocols in the Philippines are mainly preventive rather than reactive. This locally-designed solution focused on the Tumana district serves as a safe and reliable means for citizens to brave the flash floods and unexpected storms that catch many off guard. The Victoria water lily can support weight due to a ribbed structural support at its underside, and this strategy inspired the raft’s design. The double-layered modular platform can be used in a number of ways at times of rest, from a park bench to a roof or even a divider implemented city-wide for ease of access. Once it comes in contact with water, the air pockets would immediately fill and float, supporting the weight of people onboard in the currents of the flood waters. (Manila, Philippines)

Zooza: Cooler Communities. Brighter Futures — Most often, Urban Heat Islands impact the most vulnerable communities in a city. Zooza is a cooling strategy and community implementation approach inspired by a couple organisms’ abilities to change color in response to UV rays; the microstructure of the white scarab beetle, which scatters light of all wavelengths, creating a brilliant white to keep cool; and the bottlenose dolphins’ peer-to-peer information-sharing network. The Zooza product is a two-layer thermochromic paint that encourages community-driven mural events. The first layer consists of micro-cellulose scales, and pigment capsules in the second layer dissolve in response to a rise in heat, allowing the bright white cellulose scales in the first layer to return to fully saturated color. The solution adapts to the seasons, heating and cooling when necessary to lower demand for energy, and mitigates the effects of Urban Heat Islands. (Savannah, GA, USA)

Two of the Biomimicry Institute’s international partners, Biomimicry Taiwan and UNDP Ukraine, held regional competitions in 2021 that included support and instruction prior to the Global Design Challenge. “The dedicated work of these partners demonstrates the value of locally attuned support for design participants,” said Michelle Graves, Director of the Global Design Challenge and Launchpad at the Biomimicry Institute. “We’re proud to see two of our Global Design Challenge finalists, MicroBergy and MOL, also recognized as finalists in these regional competitions.”

Those looking to create a nature-inspired solution to a problem in industry are encouraged to apply for the Biomimicry Institute’s Launchpad program. To continue your educational journey in learning more about biomimicry, visit biomimicry.org and asknature.org.

The Biomimicry Institute empowers people to create nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet. www.biomimicry.org