Ray of Hope Prize supports nature-inspired startups
The plants and animals that have thrived on this planet through the eons clearly know something about success and longevity. They’ve adapted to their surroundings and evolved to make the most of their environments. We could learn a thing or two from them to make our own lives a little better. Many companies have and are committing the lessons of nature to new technologies. To support those efforts, the Biomimicry Institute created its Ray of Hope Prize, selecting the top nature-inspired startups in the world. The institute has chosen 10 finalists for a 10-week virtual accelerator program that provides business training, communications support, and funding. At the end of the program, the institute will designate a winner of its $100,000 grand prize this month.
“Every year, we see more and more breakthrough, nature-inspired companies apply to the Ray of Hope Prize — indicating that this field is growing to meet the climate and biodiversity challenges facing our planet,” Biomimicry Institute innovation director Jared Yarnall-Schane said. “Among them are companies that are creating brand new chemicals and materials that are in tune with those that already exist in nature, and companies that are creating products to make critical infrastructure more efficient and sustainable.”
Drawing inspiration from natural nanostructures that repel water and other liquids, the company’s Amphitex is a PFC-free and 100% recyclable, breathable textile for outdoor wear. The superhydrophobic yarn comes from a single source material and does not need chemical treatment, making it a sustainable alternative to most rain and outdoor gear.
Wind turbines often lose power to root leakage when an area of low pressure develops at the center of the turbine between the blades. For its PowerCone, Biome Renewables looked to two of nature’s most efficient ways of moving through fluid. Mimicking a kingfisher’s beak, it directs wind from the center to the outer reaches of a turbine blade. Like a maple seed, the PowerCone seeks the path of least resistance in the air, channeling wind along its blades. Together, these innovations help PowerCone increase energy production by more than 6% when retrofitted onto existing turbines.
Working on micro- and nano-scales, Fusion Bionics lasers generate surface textures that support automotive, aerospace, and medical technologies. They can create surfaces that ice won’t stick to, that don’t reflect light, and surfaces on medical implants that are easy for human bodies to accept. By doing it with lasers, the company avoids harmful chemicals and processes that can damage the environment.
India is the world’s second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables. Because of logistical issues, 40% of that produce goes bad before it can reach consumers, costing $12 billion annually and contributing to a widespread hunger problem. GreenPod Labs uses plant extracts to trigger natural defense mechanisms in fruits and vegetables to slow ripening rates and inhibit microbial growth, giving them longer shelf lives.
We know some natural enzymes are great at breaking down plastic. Unfortunately, the enzymes don’t do well when taken outside of their natural cellular environments. That is, they didn’t until Intropic Materials developed nanoprotectants that keep the proteins in those enzymes stable and active in foreign environments. Armed with those, they can break plastics down quickly into biodegradable or chemically recyclable materials without leaving microplastics behind.
Natural materials like bone and bamboo are strong and flexible thanks to their low density. Metavoxel recreates the cellular geometry of materials like this to produce programmable, modular cellular structures at the macro level. Their lightweight metamaterials provide structural strength without using much material, thus keeping cost and environmental impact low, with important implications for infrastructure and transportation.
Mushrooms are some of nature’s most effective composters. They break down complex carbons and eliminate toxins. Utilizing lab-cultivated fungi on a large scale, Mycocycle reproduces that mycology to break down asphalt and other chemicals, keeping roofing materials and other waste out of landfills and converting them to fire- and water-resistant biomaterials that can be recycled into new products. It could eliminate millions of tons of solid waste per year, proving once again that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Sunscreen can be life-saving for users but deadly for sensitive organisms like coral. Sóliome’s protein engineers figured out how to isolate compounds that naturally concentrate in the lens of the human eye to absorb UVA and UVB radiation. They turned it into a safe and sustainable sunscreen with the power to transform an $18 billion global market.
Trees can stand up to heavy winds and densely packed snow without toppling. Replicating the form and fiber orientation of natural wood, Strong by Form’s Woodflow serves as a sustainable alternative to building materials such as aluminum and glass fiber. The wood-based composite can support objects many times its weight and have variable thickness, making it ideal for auto manufacturing, furniture, and construction.
Much like how our livers eliminate toxins from our bodies, Sudoc’s cleaning products oxidize pathogens and toxic chemicals without employing harmful chemicals, as many cleaners do. Its dilute oxidation technology uses only elements found in the human body to remove mold and difficult stains with a product that has 1/30 the chemical content of common cleaning products.