10 nature-inspired innovations competing for the 2021 Ray of Hope award
Sustainable building materials, textiles, cooling systems and water filtration technologies are among the top 10 nature-inspired solutions participating in the Institute of Biomimicry’s 10-week acceleration program and in the running for the annual prize of $ 100,000.
A growing number of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs are learning from nature and reinventing products and business models to help solve some of our most pressing environmental and social challenges. the Institute of Biomimicry is proud to announce the top 10 nature-inspired startups selected to participate in the Ray of Hope® Award 2021 – a transformation program designed to help start-up innovators to evolve their sustainable solutions. The 10-Week Virtual Accelerator concludes with a live presentation for the chance to receive the $ 100,000 Grand Prize – awarded by industry and conservation leaders from WWF, Patagonia and Yale, among others. Additional financing without own funds will be made available to participating companies.
Created in honor of the late
Interface founder Ray C. Anderson, the Ray of Hope Award provides specialized training and mentorship in sustainable business practices. Beyond eligibility for the $ 100,000 prize, all participants receive training in pitching, product development and storytelling techniques; and access a growing community of biomimicry designers and entrepreneurs, industry leaders and potential investors. Former Ray of Hope Award finalists include leading innovators such as
Werewool, Impeccable materials, Aruga Technologies and
This year, the Institute received 301 applications from 49 countries. Each of the competing startups has the potential to disrupt or eliminate multiple extractive industries and practices, while revitalizing degraded ecosystems.
The 10 finalists are:
Aquammodate (Stora Höga, Sweden) revolutionizes water purification by imitating the way diatoms
(unicellular algae) form their cell wall by silica and using aquaporins, proteins that transport pure water across cell membranes in nature. Aquammodate’s energy efficient and selective technology produces high purity water in a single filter pass, desalinizes on a large scale; and removes industrial pollutants and contaminants such as arsenic, microplastics and pharmaceutical residues.
Biohm (London, United Kingdom) is a bio-based building materials company that manufactures insulation from mycelium (the “root” structure of fungi), and a 100% natural sheet material called
ORB (bio-compound of organic waste) from bio-waste and a binder of plant origin. By embracing the circular design and systemic cycle of nutrients found in nature, Biohm’s building materials – which are more affordable and outperform current products on the market – could be one of many innovations enabling a more sustainable built environment. .
Cultivate oyster reefs (Charlottesville, Virginia) – Oysters are essential for maintaining healthy ribs. They clean the water and create reefs that protect from the ocean swells. To help revitalize oyster populations, GROW has created proprietary concrete mixes that are chemically similar to oyster shells, as well as micro and macro designs that attract and retain healthy oyster populations. By working with nature to restore coastal ecosystems, GROW products enable sustainable habitat restoration.
Impossible materials (Friborg, Switzerland) – Titanium dioxide is the most widely used dye in the world, found in white road signs painted on roads, in sunscreen and toothpaste, and even in powdered donuts. However, the extraction of titanium comes at an environmental cost, and titanium dioxide nanoparticles have recently been labeled as a suspected carcinogen. In search of an alternative, researchers study brilliant white Cyphochilus beetle found that the thin layer of scales on its exoskeleton acts as a highly optimized diffusion structure, giving the beetle its brilliant white coloration. Impossible Materials mimics this structure with cellulose, creating a safer and better performing white pigment.
Infinite cooling (Somerville, MA) – 20% of all water used in the world is found in manufacturing sites and power plants, and much of it escapes as high density steam from industrial cooling towers. Infinite Cooling has developed a complementary process to capture 100% of the water vapor from the cooling tower, thereby improving the fog collection strategies deployed by animals such as the Namib desert beetle. By closing the loop of the water cycle in industrial facilities, Infinite Cooling helps customers save millions of dollars and millions of gallons of water per year.
Mold polymers (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) has developed a high performance non-toxic adhesive known as poly (catechol) styrene (PCS), mimicking the adhesive proteins that mussels use to adhere to surfaces in extreme marine environments. PCS is 300% stronger than other underwater adhesives and bonds to a wide range of materials. Mussel polymers will be used in a number of industries, but they bring their product to market first for coral restoration, solving a critical problem within the conservation ecosystem.
New Iridium (Senior, CO) has created a suite of organic chemicals that allow photocatalysis, or light-driven chemistry – eliminating the need for heavy metals or heat as catalysts. Their technology dramatically reduces the energy and time required for a wide variety of chemical reactions, lowering costs and paving the way for green chemistry to become the industry standard. With its products already in use by pharmaceutical and chemical companies, New Iridium is working to develop a platform that mimics photosynthesis by using light energy to convert water and CO2 into chemical energy.
Novobiom (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium) operates nature’s most powerful recyclers – mushrooms and microorganisms
– for use in brownfields, Superfund sites and other contaminated industrial land. By selecting fungi that target specific contaminants such as petroleum or heavy metals, they mycoremediation on site, without the need to transport the soil to a central processing facility. Novobiom has the potential to revitalize millions of contaminated sites around the world by naturally breaking down harmful toxins using this systems-level biomimetic approach.
Renaissance fiber (Wilmington, North Carolina) – Cultivate hemp because the textile fiber is an old practice; however, with the advent of modern agriculture and the invention of synthetic textiles, the processing required for hemp meant that it could not compete economically with these alternatives. Renaissance Fiber has developed a
degumming method based on the natural degradation of plant fibers observed in tidal currents, using much less energy than traditional hemp processing and creating more affordable and better quality hemp fibers. The Renaissance process also sequesters carbon in the effluent, which can be returned to the ocean as a natural carbon sink.
Spintex Engineering (Oxford, United Kingdom) –
spider silk is often cited as one of the strongest biological materials in the world, and scientists have long researched a way to synthesize this silk for use as a textile fiber. Spintex has finally cracked the spider code and developed a solution that mimics the ability of a spider spinneret to spin fiber at room temperature without harsh chemicals, from a liquid gel. The Spintex process is 1,000 times more energy efficient than synthetic petroleum fibers, with water as the only by-product.
“This year’s Ray of Hope Award cohort collectively addresses global sustainability challenges that represent billions of dollars in business opportunities,” said Jared Yarnall-Shane, Director of Entrepreneurship for the Institute of Biomimicry. “Our goal is to help them break through the barriers that many science entrepreneurs face, giving them the momentum to scale operations.”
Ray of Hope Prize participants participate in the 10-week virtual program and will present their presentations to an expert jury in early June.