Text: Oksana Udovyk, Head of Experimentation, UNDP Accelerator Lab Ukraine Editing: Euan MacDonald, Communication Unit, UNDP Ukraine
This year, for the first time, UNDP Accelerator Labs, in partnership with the Biomimicry Institute in the United States and a number of Ukrainian Non-Governmental Organizations invited innovators, engineers, designers, and inventors to participate in the national selection round for the Global Biomimicry Challenge – an international contest supporting biomimicry-based solutions. Last year, the United Nations Development Programme created a network of 60 innovation labs covering 78 countries to design and test new solutions for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Kyiv is the location of one of them.
What is Biomimicry?
Biomimicry is a practice that learns from and mimics the strategies found in nature to solve human design challenges. These nature-inspired solutions and their integration into society have been at the heart of our Accelerator Lab’s mission since it was first launched in September 2019. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, biomimicry offered creative solutions and lessons from nature to respond against the crisis.
About the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge
The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, hosted by the Biomimicry Institute, is an annual competition that unites hundreds of students, professionals, and global innovators to address critical global issues and with nature-inspired solutions. The Challenge is to create nature-inspired innovations (products, services or systems) that align with one (or more) of the 17 SDGs, to make human life more sustainable.
About the Ukrainian National Selection Round of the Challenge
The national selection round for the Global Biomimicry Challenge was co-organized by the UNDP Accelerator Labs in partnership with the Biomimicry Challenge in the United States and a number of Ukrainian NGOs. Participants were selected based on their projects’ coherency with the concept of biomimicry, its potential to be further developed, and prospects for global innovation. The finalists of the Ukrainian National Selection Round go on to participate in the Global Design Challenge, representing Ukraine at the international level of the competition.
After a competitive national selection process involving many applicants, three finalists were chosen for their inventive projects and designs. They will be competing in the Global Challenge.
In a truly sustainable world, we would build our homes using only recyclable materials, renewable energy, without any waste and without disturbing the habitat. That might seem impossible – and yet that is how the rest of nature operates. ecoPod was created with just this in mind - aligning in harmony with nature. The first modules were built in the form of a geodesic dome for tourist accommodation but can also be used as an alternative for ecovillages, social housing, mobile offices or garages, for business and in the private sector.
In terms of biomimicry, geodesic domes were originally the creation of Buckminster Fuller, who drew inspiration from the structural uniformity of snowflakes, seed pods, and the geometry of plankton. These structures are characterized by their inherent stability and the efficient use of space. And so, if Nature were doing the job, buckminsterfullerene would be the only logical choice for making structures. The biomimicry in this project involved discovering the shared principles behind the natural structures of all materials, shapes and sizes. Now imagine if all city designers were using this type of innovation!
Read more about biomimicry and architecture here.
The natural world around us provides excellent examples of functional surfaces, fibrous structures, structural colours, self-healing, thermal insulation, etc. that are truly sustainable, and which offer important lessons for textile products of the future.
DevoHome is a manufacturer of textiles and clothing out of hemp, an alternative to leather and fur. In their original research for creating a biodegradable and eco-friendly material, Oksana Devoe and her team found that the heat capacity of combed hemp fiber makes it an excellent insulator, comparable with sheep's wool. They focused on the insulation technology developed by animals to regulate the temperature within the fur layer, and thus created HempFur – a replacement for animal and synthetic fur, from which DevoHome produces hemp coats. The process involves developing and recreating the structure of animal fur to suit human needs – such as natural bedclothes made from hemp for hotels. What if all our production systems functioned like this?
Read more about biomimicry in textile production here.
Trees naturally filter and clean our air and water, while absorbing carbon dioxide and using it to produce biomaterial. Trees provide shade and reduce urban heat, while also contributing to wellbeing. There is a lot to learn from them.
A team from The National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy led by Borys Vasylkivskyi had the idea of reducing the amount of pollutants in the air, by using the same structures seen in the leaves and trunks of trees on the facades of houses. The tree leaf- and bark-inspired facade tile traps a significant proportion of airborne dust on its surface. The tiles, being rough and having grooves, are then washed clean by rainwater. The tiles can be arranged so that the rainwater flows through grooves to water tanks located at the bottom of the building wall (in the same way tree bark channels rainwater to the base of the tree, and its roots). Then the water, after filtration, can be used to water plants. What if all our buildings had such a facade?
Where do the finalists go from here?
The three finalists will receive support and guidance from mentors to help develop their proposals for the Global Biomimicry Challenge, as well as promotion at the international level among the Global Accelerator Labs Network.
The applicants selected at the international level will attend the Biomimicry Institute's Launchpad in the United States with the support of the organizers, provided the pandemic situation in Ukraine and the United States has ended and travel restrictions lifted.
About the International Mentors
Throughout our finalists’ application process for the global challenge, they had access to both international and local Ukrainian mentorship to help guide them, improve their designs, and incorporate biomimicry into their projects.
Sydney Dovale Farelo, the mentor for Tree, is an industrial designer who uses the biomimicry methodology. When completing her Masters in Design, Farelo created Cooltiva – a sustainable alternative for indoor cooling that was selected as a finalist in the 2018 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Sydney also founded a startup called Verde Foresta, whose manufactured products are mainly based on natural materials transformed by local artisans.
Mónica Cohen, the mentor for ecoPod, is an architect, innovator, entrepreneur, and author, whose work has had an impact at the global scale. After attending the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Mónica founded the Biomimicry Argentina Network, which is affiliated with the Global Biomimicry Network (2014), and was awarded the title of a Certified Biomimicry Specialist & Biophilic Consultant by the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute. She has published a book: “Insperience, Nature’s Design,” and currently manages the Israeli company Ayala Water & Ecology in Latin America.
Chui-Lian Lee, the mentor for DevoHome, was a finalist for the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge in 2019. She and three colleagues developed Werewool – a fiber formation platform that harnesses nature’s functional properties for textile applications with the many possibilities of protein fiber. It uses a biometric approach to emulate the inherent performance properties of materials that nature has evolved, without the drawbacks of traditional synthetic fibers.
About the Local Mentors
The finalists in the challenge also had local mentors based in Ukraine, from both UNDP Ukraine and NGOs. These mentors included:
● Klaudia Shevelyuk from Change Agency Responsible Future, is a UNDP national consultant on sustainable development under the project “E-learning for sustainable development.” Klaudia advises Ukrainian and international organizations and businesses on sustainability strategies, policies and programs as well as on non-financial reports, life-cycle assessments and stakeholders engagement.
● Mykola Riabyka is an ecologist from Plato. The organization works to adapt urban space to climate change, on the practical implementation of nature-based solutions and advocates the formation of a comprehensive climate policy in Lviv.
● Iryna Galiuk is green economy projects’ coordinator at PPV Knowledge Networks, an economic development agency operating in Lviv. Within the Green Economy Department, she advances sustainable practices in the local and regional economy through analytical studies, consulting and project implementation.
● Kateryna Strypko is head of CO “CF “Fund for the protection of biodiversity of Ukraine.” Together with the fund’s team she works to educate people about the value of biodiversity for life on Earth, and about ecosystem services that nature provides people. She and her team also implement projects that protect Ukraine’s biodiversity.