Biomimicry Institute announces winners of second food systems Challenge

8 pictures

The Home Food Garbage Decomposer was one of the winning entries

View gallery - 8 images

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has announced the winners of its 2016 competition, the second challenge centered on food systems and how biomimicry can help improve them. The 10 winning teams will receive cash prizes and some will get the chance to bring their project to market and compete for an additional cash prize from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

The winning teams were chosen from a list of 86 submissions from 18 countries, with the projects assessed by 50 judges, including biologists, business leaders, venture capitalists and agricultural specialists.

Over the two years of the Challenge, the focus of the initiative has been on key food and agriculture issues, such as waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, energy use, and others.

Student Category winners

The first prize went to a team of high school girls from Ontario, Canada. They won the top spot with a water capture device called Stillæ, which was inspired by organisms that can survive in water­-scarce regions.

It was on the Socotra archipelago in the Indian Ocean that the all-girl team found its muses: the Socotra desert rose whose bulbous trunk provided the model for the holding tank of the Stillæ, and lichen, another local organism that inspired the team with its ability to absorb moisture in the air directly through its cell walls. A beetle variety provided the concept of catching water between blades.

The device captures water from the air with solar-powered spinning blades. Then, a cooling system is used to condense air particles on the surface of the blades. Water is then collected at the base of the design, which can be utilized for personal and agricultural use.

There's more information in the following video.

The second prize went to a team at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan for The Home Food Garbage Decomposer, an aerobic decomposer for home use.

The team wants to reduce food waste in their city and mitigate the environmental side-effects it causes. Inspiration came from various sources, including cockroaches' respiratory system, termites' nest air circulation systems, and the structure of cocoons and honeycombs.

The compost honeycomb-like unit works in a cyclic system, where the mature manure is transferred to upper planting units and a new cycle starts from the emptied unit. Each compost unit bears its own date, so the Decomposer would work like a sort of home calendar farm.


The third prize was given to EcoFruitainer, devised by a team from the Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City, Mexico. It is a transportable container to keep food fresh and avoid waste.

Tree bark inspired the spiral cooling towers to keep the interior cool and the air flowing. The roof of the container is inspired by the green birdwing butterfly's light-reflecting ability. The food is put inside waterproof sacks that farmers would have been previously supplied with, made with absorbent fabric. Inside, a spiderweb-like material absorbs impact to protect the integrity of food produce.

EcoFruitainer is made with recycled materials and runs without electricity, so its impact is kept at a minimum.


Open Category winners

The seven winners in this category will receive a $2,000 cash prize and an invitation to enter the 2016/­17 Biomimicry Accelerator, which culminates in the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize.

Here's a rundown on the winning projects:

Happy Soil, from Woodland in California, is a system to replenish soil and was inspired by nature's capacity to recycle everything. It is meant as a low-cost addition to a farming operation and consists of a soil replenishment innovation to create a healthy soil microbiome and increase water retention.

Happy Soil is a natural time-release, dissolvable application embedded with dried mycorrhizae (fungi) and bacteria that are very efficient at getting rid of weeds (almost 100 percent) while encouraging the desired crop to grow. Seeds for the incoming year are incorporated into the blanketing process to give them a microbial jumpstart for the coming crop cycle. This makes for stronger seedlings and plants.

b-all, from Bogota in Colombia is an edible food packaging system to maintain the integrity of produce during its journey from farmer to consumer. The idea is to create an organic protective peel coating, a foam-like layer covered with an impermeable varnish and packed as a complete meal in an external package. It was inspired by the fruit from the the Pittosporum Undulatum tree and the Elytra beetle variety with its hard shell, double layer and foam structure.

ANSA, from UC San Diego, California, is a hydroponic growing system inspired by cyanobacteria and its synthesizing inner membrane. It allows growers to extract nutrients from compost through several filters where the nutrients are then used to feed their multi-layer, polyculture hydroponic unit.

The unit is a tower divided into several compartments and powered with solar and LED lights. A pump moves water from the bottom of the tower and directs it to each crop compartment above. To avoid non-organic fertilizers, it uses permeable membranes and specific microbes as well as beans, alfalfa or peas to provide nitrogen to crops in the central unit. Organized waste is filtered and metabolized into complex, plant-ready inorganic matter before being introduced into the central unit.

Slant is an app inspired by ants, specifically the way they influence each other's behavior, in a bid to reduce food waste. The user can tell the app what food item they want and the app can show where the best local option is, which the user can then review. This food source is marked like a pheromone (a chemical factor ants exude to trigger a social response), a temporary geo-reference signal. The app uses signals from other users to map out the best food choices near the user.

Concept(non)Restaurant is a restaurant where customers cannot eat more than they need. The concept was inspired by bees, bacteria and monkeys to foster an ethos of solidarity and participation. Food in this conceptual restaurant is always seasonal and local. A screen shows how resources decrease as customers choose their meals. If the choice is sustainable, resources will go down at a rate that allows others to eat and keep the restaurant working. Otherwise, fewer people will eat and the restaurant will have a shorter lifespan.

Next Loop is rainwater collection system. It is designed into modules that would initially be retrofitted on multi-story buildings to collect rainwater to be distributed to a hydroponic cultivation system. Individual modules integrate water storage and collection while mycorrhisal networks of fungi maintain plant hydration by transporting fluid between the root systems of neighboring plants.

GetFresh was inspired by how animals choose preys to devise a solution to bring health food to "food deserts" in Baltimore in the US. The idea is to access excess fresh produce from local farmers that meets needs and desires of local people in the city. GetFresh would would provide a consistent supply of fresh food in stations placed in corner shops in order to create a health food habit through easy and adequate availability.

The upcoming accelerator program will be the second one the Biomimicry Institute has run as part of the annual competition. Currently, the first accelerator teams are finalizing their prototypes and business plans in preparation for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize award event, to be held at the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California, on October 22, 2016.

"This is our first cohort of finalists to produce working prototypes, which makes them trailblazers," says Beth Rattner, executive director of the Biomimicry Institute. "Doing biomimicry is hard, submitting practical and inspired design concepts is far harder, and making them actually work and solve the problem is extraordinary. We are immensely proud of these teams and I believe we will being seeing at least a few of them make it all the way to market."

Looking ahead

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1.5 million over four years to support the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Having started in 2016, the two organizations will award the $100,000 prize to the most viable prototype that best encapsulates the principles of biomimicry.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge will open in October with a focus on climate change. Once again, teams will be able to compete for the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize.

View gallery - 8 images

Top stories

Recommended for you

Latest in Environment

Editors Choice