Meet the new food system game-changers – Biomimicry Institute

We know that biomimicry is the most hopeful sustainable design approach out there and the ten winning teams in the 2016 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge echo that hope loud and clear.

We are thrilled to announce the winners of the 2016 Challenge, culled from 86 entries from 18 countries. The winners range from high schoolers to professionals, from all kinds of professional backgrounds and geographic locations, but they all share the same drive to reinvent our food system, using blueprints from the living organisms that surround us. We’re so proud of these teams and can’t wait to be a part of their next steps as they work to make their designs a reality.

The three winning teams in the student category will receive cash prizes, while the seven winning teams in the open category will each receive $2,000 and an invitation to enter the 2016-17 Biomimicry Accelerator, which culminates in the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize.

Read on to meet each of these winning teams and learn how they’re working to change the food system as we know it.

Winners, Student Category

First place: Stillæ – Glenforest Secondary School, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

A team of six high school girls from Ontario, Canada developed Stillæ, a device designed to capture water in the air before it fully evaporates and then use that water to irrigate crops in both developed and developing countries.

Inspiration: The team looked to organisms that can survive in water-scarce regions for inspiration for their design, including the Socotra desert rose, lichen, and the fogstand beetle. Stillæ is covered in hexagonal-shaped solar panels, inspired by the honeycombs of bees.

Second place: Home Food Garbage Decomposer – Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan

The Home Food Garbage Decomposer is a device that aims to address the pollution and food safety issues associated with the way food waste is currently treated.

Inspiration: The team looked to cockroaches’ respiratory system, termites’ nest air circulation systems, and the structure of cocoons and honeycombs in order to create a highly efficient, aerobic decomposer for home use.

Third place: The EcoFruitainerUniversidad Panamericana, Mexico City, Mexico

The EcoFruitainer is a bio-inspired, transportable container that not only keeps food fresh in sustainable ways, but enhances food access in rural or hard-to-reach areas.

Inspiration: The team looked to the cooling and storage functions of organisms such as the nephila clavipes spider, prairie dog, tree bark, and the reflective properties of the green birdwing butterfly.

Winners, Open Category

NexLoop – New York City, USA

Nexloop makes it possible for city-dwellers to capture, store, and distribute rainwater for a hydroponic growing system, right from their own windows. By retrofitting multistory residential building facades to harness rainwater for irrigation, the Nexloop team aims to increase small-scale, hyper-local urban food production that operates independently from the city water grid, and increases the visibility of food system processes.

Inspiration: This design uses water capturing innovations inspired by moss, the sacred locust, and the Brazilian wild petunia, the water storage innovations of the ice plant, and the water distribution innovations of the slimy spike-cap.

ANSA (Autonomous Nutrient Supply Alternative) – UC San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA

Inspired by microbial communities, a team from UC San Diego have developed ANSA, a hydroponic growing system that effectively uses space, consumes less water, and eliminates the use of soil while maintaining nutrient quality and bringing healthy food closer to homes.

Inspiration: This design mimics cyanobacteria’s photosynthesizing inner membrane allowing growers to extract nutrients from compost through a series of filters where the nutrients are then used to feed their multi-layer, poly-culture hydroponic unit.

Slant – Santiago, Chile

Slant is an app that aims to reduce food waste by creating a platform for users to influence each other’s decisions regarding the quality of food. Similarly to how foraging ants leave pheromone trails, a user can leave a mark within a range of intensity depending of the quality of the food source and how sustainably it was produced.

Inspiration: This app mimics the way ants communicate with each other both through one-on-one interactions and through pheromone trails that slightly alter the probability that another ant will act a certain way. 

GetFresh – Baltimore, MD, USA

Get Fresh develops micro-habitats for fresh foods at corner stores in Baltimore. First, Get Fresh will source excess produce from local farmers. Then, students in a culinary job training program will turn the ingredients into delicious, nutritious meals which will be sold in corner stores across Baltimore.

Inspiration: The team used human-centered design and biomimicry to analyze problems, find inspirations, and develop strategies. They looked to biological patterns and theories to find inspiration about how to successfully introduce a new food source, including how to increase demand for healthy food choices.

Happy Soil – Woodland, CA, USA

Happy Soil is a biomimetic soil replenishment innovation, designed to create a healthy soil microbiome, increase water retention, and lower labor hours for farmers. This product is a natural time-release, dissolvable application embedded with dried mycorrhizae (fungi) that suppresses nearly 100% of weeds while encouraging desired crop growth.

Inspiration: With this design, the team is leveraging nature’s ability to recycle everything, reward cooperation, and power itself on sunlight, while making soils – and, in turn, humans – happier.

Concept (non)Restaurant – London, UK

Concept (non)Restaurant (CnR) is a meta-project that aims to shift attitudes about food waste and our disposable culture using natural models as inspiration. In this (non)restaurant, if customers eat or buy more than they need, there will be no food or resources left for the (non)restaurant to “survive.” If sustainable choices are made however, the restaurant will stay alive, demonstrating that personal choices have an impact on the larger community.

Inspiration: The team looked to nature to discover how living organisms collaborate in order to share resources equally, getting inspiration from how mycorrhizal fungi help exchange carbon, nutrients, and water between plants, among others. They also learned how living organisms change their behavior in the face of a challenge, like how whales and monkeys transmit culture through emulation.

b-all – Bogota, Colombia

B-all is a sustainable, edible food packaging system, designed to protect food in the journey from producer to consumer. The team’s goal is to create a special coating, derived from kitchen produce, that can be easily applied to a spherical nutritious ball, which will preserve it intact until it reaches the consumer.

Inspiration: The team was inspired by the protective functions of beetles and certain fruits like the pittosporum undulatum to create the b-all with a special double peel coating, including a foam-like layer covered by an impermeable varnish-type layer.

Stay tuned! A new challenge – and a new theme – launches in October 2016. Learn more about the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge at challenge.biomimicry.org.

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