We know that our planet is hurtling towards some scary consequences of a century-plus of resource-pillaging, but the question remains – what do we do about it?

That’s why we are proud to announce the 2017 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge winning teams and their proposed solutions to mitigate, adapt to, and reverse climate change.

Out of nearly 100 entries from 28 countries, five teams will be joining the third cohort of our Biomimicry Accelerator, where they’ll spend the next year working with biomimicry and business mentors to prototype and test their designs. The goal? Bringing much-needed climate change solutions to market with the help of the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize™. Our judges have also chosen three winning teams in our student-only competition, including a carbon scrubbing device and a bio-inspired patch that generates electricity by capturing heat.

Read on to learn more how these solution-seekers are using biomimicry to help solve climate change.


Thermosmart – Mexico City, Mexico

This design mimics the qualities of circulatory systems to create a heating and cooling approach that uses 20% less energy than traditional heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) systems. HVAC systems are incredibly wasteful, with nearly 60% of buildings’ energy consumption allocated to heating and cooling systems. The Thermosmart team looked at how circulatory systems in alligators, elephants, and other species dissipate excess heat, rapidly distribute heat throughout the body, harvest heat from external sources, and utilize internally-generated heat, to create a system that adapts to various conditions. This system uses an automated smart network of low-speed pumps, valves, and sensors that can efficiently manage heating and cooling in medium/high-rise commercial buildings.

Cooltiva – Bogotá, Colombia

Cooltiva is a system that takes advantage of the wind and the sun to regulate temperatures inside city residences using minimal energy. With over 79% of residential energy usage going towards maintaining comfortable temperatures, Cooltiva incorporates plants into a passive design that is placed in windows, funneling and cooling incoming air. When the wind isn’t blowing hard enough the system turns to an active mode, powered by solar energy, that draws air in and turns itself off when the indoor temperature is optimal. Cooltiva’s design mimics the way leaf-cutter ants’ mounds regulate temperature, the way espeletia plant leaves collect and funnel water to the stem, and the evapotranspiration process of leaves.The goal is to make cities resilient to global warming using renewable and freely available energy.

B’More BiomiMICAns – Baltimore, Maryland, US

By emulating the mechanisms of blue crab and bay grass and their mutualistic relationship within the ecosystem of Chesapeake Bay, Cool Down B’More is a network that connects low-income communities to designated cool spaces via an affordable transportation system. This idea would increase access to cool spaces for vulnerable populations, connecting them to the right information and transportation, thus reducing the likelihood of heat-related health issues. The design’s three main parts include a 1) Cool Circulator that transports people from hot areas to 2) Cool Stations spread throughout the city, where 3) via a Cool Exchange system, residents and visitors can freely access these stations in exchange for supporting a community volunteer network.

Nucleário – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Inspired by winged seeds, bromeliads, and forest leaf litter, Nucleário is a reforestation solution that is designed to be used in remote and hard-to-reach areas of the Atlantic rain forest. Currently, 17 million hectares of the Atlantic rain forest are unproductive and abandoned. Traditional forest restoration approaches in remote areas are logistically complex and expensive, requiring manual work and periodic visits to the reforestation areas. The Nucleário is designed to be deployed from the air into degraded areas, helping seedlings grow without requiring human maintenance. Made of biodegradable materials, it ensures that seedlings survive by providing a barrier from ants, collecting water, offering shade, and protecting against invasive species.

Refish – Taipei, Taiwan

The average fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) level in Taiwan is now two times more than World Health Organization standards, which poses serious health risks to people, especially urban commuters. This team looked to how living organisms like baleen whales and African violet leaves collect micro particles to create a device called Refish that can be attached onto vehicles to collect fine particulate matter. By leveraging the movement of vehicles to generate air flow into the collector module, Refish can capture PM2.5 on the road without requiring electricity and motors to pump air like typical air purifiers. With this low cost design, the team hopes to inspire commuters to shift into more eco-friendly behaviors and bring fresh air back to the road.

In addition, these two teams received honorable mention:

GAITT – This team captured an honorable mention for best humanitarian application for their prosthetic inspired by a gear-like synchronization mechanism found in the planthopper. This design combats many current barriers to prosthetic distribution in developing countries, such as affordability and required time to manufacture.

AsteroIdea – This design – a garment with cooling technology inspired by the thermoregulatory mechanisms of sea stars – was given honorable mention for having the most sustainability potential.


FIRST PLACE: ExtrACTION – California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA, US

This team looked to how nature captures carbon dioxide to create a carbon-scrubbing panel system that can be applied to buildings and other existing infrastructure along freeways and main streets. Inspired by how Phragmites australis, also known as the common reed, distributes air by moving it through different sized hollow stems, this design extracts airborne carbon dioxide by drawing it through reed-like entrances and exits and passing it through a carbon scrubber. The carbon scrubber collects and stores carbon, improving air quality in dense urban environments.

SECOND PLACE: Bioinspired Electric Patch – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland

This team was inspired by the structure of a silk moth cocoon to design a patch that generates electricity by absorbing heat. The patch is made of compostable materials and directly connects to and recharges electronic devices like smartphones. In addition to mimicking the fibrous, porous matrix of the silk moth cocoon to generate a current, the team also looked to the fire beetle’s ability to detect heat and the ultra-hydrophobic properties of lady’s mantle plant leaves to make elements of the design heat-sensitive and waterproof. While the power produced by this device is limited, if used at a large scale it has the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption.

THIRD PLACE: CO2 Efficient Uptake System (CO2EUS) – National Technical University of Athens, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Technical University of Crete, Greece

This team created CO2EUS (CO2 Efficient Uptake System), a device that sequesters excess carbon dioxide (CO2) seawater into calcium carbonate (CaCO3). This design emulates coral calcification and the fluid dynamics that lead to CaCO3 deposition. To protect coastal microorganisms and to prevent bioinfestation within the system, the entrance duct is equipped with a bio-filter that was inspired by the baleen of Mysticetes whales. To avoid waste heat, the team looked to thread-waisted wasps to transfer depolluted water back into the ocean after it has been cooled. By sequestering CO2 from the sea, this design aims to enhance the ocean’s capacity to absorb and process CO2, ultimately contributing to the re-stabilization of the carbon cycle.

These additional student teams were given honorable mention for their excellent work:

  • EvapoPalm: Creating Change in Public Transportation to Mitigate the Consequences of Melbourne’s Urban Heat Island – California Polytechnic State University
  • FARM: Underground Rainwater Storage System  – University of Calgary
  • AsteroIdea – Cornell University
  • Graindrop – Cornell University
  • Project Raindrop – Wilbur Wright Middle School, Munster, IN

Want to take on the Challenge? A new round focused on biomimicry and climate change solutions will open this fall. Learn more at challenge.biomimicry.org.

Educators, learn more about how to incorporate biomimicry and/or the Challenge into your courses with a free Challenge curriculum module and a full Biomimicry and Science curriculum.

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