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Nature-inspired water collection system wins $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize

By 2050, 9 billion people will live on our planet, and 70% of them will live in cities, creating a demand for sustainable local food production solutions. An international team based in New York City has developed a prototype product that mimics the way living systems capture, store, and distribute water, and has been awarded the 2017 $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize in the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. The challenge is an international design competition and accelerator program that crowdsources nature-inspired climate change solutions. Team NexLoop, whose members include Jacob Russo, Anamarija Frankic, and C. Mike Lindsey, was awarded the prize at the National Bioneers Conference.

“NexLoop is an impressive team across the board,” said John A. Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “They have a deep understanding of how biomimicry aids in the design process, and their plans for hyper local water capture and storage in urban settings could play a crucial role in scaling local, sustainable agriculture. We are proud to award them this year’s Ray of Hope Prize.”

Team NexLoop developed the AquaWeb to help urban local food producers collect, filter, store, and distribute atmospheric moisture with a modular, all-in-one water sourcing and management system. AquaWeb harnesses freely available rain and fog and uses passive strategies to distribute this water so that urban farms, including greenhouses, indoor vertical farms, and container farms, can save energy and become more resilient to disturbances.

Each aspect of AquaWeb’s design was inspired by living systems. These include how cribellate orb weaver spider webs collect fog from the air, how drought-tolerant plants like the crystalline ice plant store water, and how mycorrhizal fungi like the Jersey cow mushroom distribute water. The team also looked to the dwarf honey bee’s hexagonal nest structure for AquaWeb’s efficient and modular design.

The trustees of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation also awarded a $20,000 second place prize to Team Windchill from the University of Calgary, Canada, who created an electricity-free refrigeration system inspired by how animals regulate temperature. The $15,000 third place prize went to Team Evolution’s Solutions from the University of California, San Diego, who created a food waste nutrient recycling and supply system inspired by bacteria that helps hydroponic farmers grow food more efficiently and sustainably.

“These teams taught us what is possible when we ask: How does nature preserve? Turn food waste into fertilizer? Allocate nutrients equitably? Pull water from air? Find dispersed nutrients? Cool without refrigeration?” said Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute. “Their designs are elegant and refreshingly new approaches to the essential question: How will we feed ourselves in a way that feeds the planet?”

A total of six international teams spent the past year in the world’s only Biomimicry Accelerator program, developing working prototypes with the help of biomimicry experts and business mentors in order to create viable, market-ready solutions. A full list of the finalists’ innovations can be found here. The Biomimicry Accelerator is a commercialization platform for biomimicry entrepreneurs to bring needed sustainability solutions to market faster. The Biomimicry Accelerator is part of the Biomimicry Institute’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, a worldwide design competition sponsored by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation that crowdsources biomimetic, or nature-inspired, solutions to climate change issues, like food systems, water management, and alternative energy.

This year marks the second year that the Ray of Hope Prize was presented at the National Bioneers Conference. The conference, held this year from October 20-22, 2017, is a yearly gathering of dynamic changemakers dedicated to solving our world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.

“Our vision moving forward is to help seed biomimicry and biomimetic thinking as the default position for design, industry, economy, and culture,” said Kenny Ausubel, Bioneers co-founder and CEO. “The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge doubles down on innovation, providing a business incubation process as well as potential investment capital for the finalists to accelerate market-ready, scalable biomimetic solutions to our greatest challenges. As such, we are honored to be continuing and deepening our partnership with them.”

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has just launched, focused again on finding nature-inspired climate-change solutions. It is a new opportunity for teams to join and compete for the annual $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize. Individuals and teams can learn more about the Challenge at

Publication date: 11/7/2017



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