Left alone, nature maintains a perfect balance — a symbiotic relationship between plants and animals that allows them to share resources and benefit each other. Working from this example, the Biomimicry Institute launched in 2006 with the goal of inspiring individuals and businesses to take a cue from nature. The nonprofit encourages the development of processes that take inspiration from nature, thus reducing invasive practices, such as damaging mining and stripping of the planet’s limited resources.
In addition to offering a free online tool for better understanding about how nature maintains balance, the Biomimicry Institute sponsors a Youth Design Challenge and the Biomimicry Launchpad that helps entrepreneurs bring designs to market. In addition, it facilitates the Ray of Hope Prize, a program designed to help startups launch and scale sustainable solutions. Innovators compete for a $100,000 grand prize, awarded by industry and conservation leaders from the World Wildlife Fund, Patagonia and Yale University, among others. The promotion also provides other support in the form of funding and “guidance in science communication and storytelling techniques to amplify their reach and further support for their innovative solution,” according to a press release.
This year, the Ray of Hope Prize program received 301 applications from 49 countries. As the organization states, “Each of the contending startups has the potential to reduce or eliminate many current extractive industries and practices, while revitalizing degraded ecosystems—a prize we all can celebrate.” However, 10 companies were chosen to compete for the top prize. Here are the finalists.
Spintex Engineering – Oxford, U.K.
Industries have been trying to replicate the strength of spider silk for a long time. Spintex has finally cracked the code. Not only does this silk work for a variety of textile uses, but it does it without chemicals using a liquid gel. Plus, it’s 1,000 times more energy-efficient than production of fibers from petroleum. Water is the only byproduct for waste-free production.
Renaissance Fiber – Wilmington, North Carolina
Hemp has long been renowned for its natural strength and versatility, but processing costs often price it out of the competition against less-expensive synthetic textiles. Renaissance Fiber, however, has found a way to emulate the natural plant degradation in tidal streams that results in a high-quality, affordable hemp processing option with a full-circle carbon cycle.
Novobiom – Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Again looking to nature as an example, Novobiom was able to replicate the recycling work of fungi and microorganisms. Rather than hauling away industrial waste, Novobiom matches the fungi to the waste, such as oil or heavy metals, and cleans it up onsite. This eliminates the transport as well as the need for a treatment facility.
New Iridium – Superior, Colorado
New Iridium has created organic chemicals to replace the need for heavy metals or heat in photocatalysis. The process introduces an energy-efficient and faster way for the industry to create needed chemical reactions. It already has products in use by pharmaceutical and chemical companies, and the team is working toward mimicking the crucial natural process of photosynthesis.
Mussel Polymers – Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Who knew mussels naturally create an adhesive in order to cling to surfaces in the current? The team at Mussel Polymers did and developed a non-toxic adhesive by working from the example. Known as poly (catechol) styrene, or PCS, the adhesive is 300% stronger than other underwater options. The first planned use for the PCS is for coral restoration.
Infinite Cooling – Somerville, Massachusetts
Looking at the fog-harvesting abilities of a Namib desert beetle lead Infinite Cooling to develop an industrial add-on that captures 100% of the vapor that typically escapes during the manufacturing process. With estimates stating up to 20% of all water consumption is by power plants and manufacturing facilities, Infinite Cooling offers cost savings to companies and water conservation for the planet.
Impossible Materials – Fribourg, Switzerland
Titanium dioxide is a whitening agent regularly used in products around the world, yet mining the materials comes with high environmental consequences. Plus, it’s recently been researched as a suspected carcinogen. Impossible Materials looked to the bright white Cyphochilus beetle to mimic the way it produces its white exoskeleton as an environmentally safe whitening solution.
GROW Oyster Reefs – Charlottesville, Virginia
Researchers have discovered many critical contributions of oysters to the marine ecosystem. As little as they are, they’re credited with filtering the ocean’s water and combining together to create habitats for other creatures. GROW Oyster Reefs aims to support oyster populations through concrete mixes that resemble oyster shells, thereby attracting oyster populations to grow and prosper.
Biohm – London, U.K.
Mycelium is the root structure of fungi, like mushrooms, and has recently been useful for a number of innovative solutions. Biohm is using the material as the base for home insulation. It has also developed a natural sheet building material made from bio-waste and a plant-based binder. These building material alternatives are affordable, durable and part of a circular design that supports the environment.
Aquammodate – Stora Höga, Sweden
With water shortages around the world, Aquammodate took its cue from diatoms and a study of how they transport water across cell membranes. The resulting process produces high-quality water with a single filtration cycle. This has the potential to solve many of humanity’s water shortage issues, including an affordable solution for desalination as well as industrial contaminants.
Images via Biomimicry Institute