“Our future is not about choosing between people or nature. It's about choosing to do things differently #ForPeopleForPlanet, building lasting, sustainable peace.” Watch United Nations Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner's #TEDSalon on how to #BuildForwardBetter from COVID-19, via TED.

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Green recovery means rethinking human relations with nature. Due to the needs and activities of humankind, ecosystems and climate are changing, species of animals and plants are dying out, and the air is being polluted. We must learn to act differently – to restore and cleanse nature, and to live in harmony with it.

With this in mind, under of one of UNDP's projects we conducted a Community Safari to test innovative, nature-based solutions in Kyiv, Lviv and Bila Tserkva. "Moss modules, rain gardens, living fortresses, biodiversity  bands,  living walls,  and composters for organic waste are just a few examples of such sustainable nature-oriented solutions that are already being picked up by businesses.

UNDP has also begun researching how to implant the concept of nature-based solutions in Ukrainian legislation and in city strategic plans. It is continuing to arrange Safaris for communities in other cities of Ukraine as part of the Ukrainian Urban Forum "After Tomorrow", and has begun a dialogue with the country’s mayors on the possibility of implementing nature-based solutions in cities.

But in addition to such projects, we need a radical shift in scientific research and development – a new vision and way of thinking. That is why UNDP has started work on biomimicry, a discipline that studies natural models – imitating them, or using them as inspiration for the creation of products and processes to solve humanity's problems. Combined with other green UNDP projects, the development of biomimicry innovations could accelerate the creation of a new green and fair economy in Ukraine and abroad.

This year the biomimicry project,  which included an online course, challenge, and the incubation of initiatives,  selected teams to compete in the final of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge competition (read more about it here). The following teams today represent Ukraine on the international stage at the challenge:

The project "MOL eats my plastic" recruits the wax moth to help safely dispose of polyethylene. It was discovered by the team of Ukrainian scientists Lyubomyr Matsekh-Ukrainskyi and Vasyl Poluyko that wax moth larvae, under favourable warm temperature conditions, from the 25th to the 40th day after hatching are able to feed on polyethylene and produce ethylene glycol. The larvae confuse the chemical structure of polyethylene with the chemical structure of wax, and digestion is achieved due to the synergistic effect of enzymes produced by the larvae and the enzymes of microorganisms in their intestines. The idea of this startup is that the wax moth larvae will digest polyethylene waste without additional energy or chemical resources in special containers, and as a result organic matter will be obtained – ethylene glycol, which is widely used in industry and agriculture.

The project "Biodegradable Ropes for Tying Greenhouse Crops" by a team from Lviv Polytechnic, led by Candidate of Chemical Sciences Natalia Figurka, aims to reduce the volume of use and production of plastic, cutting greenhouse gas emissions (by reducing the volume of plastic being incinerated), as well as preventing contamination of farmland with plastics (the rope the team has developed decomposes in natural conditions). The rope mimics the design of the plant’s stem, and is used to bind greenhouse crops to growing supports. The lifetime of the cord coincides with the life cycle of the crop’s grown – as the plant grows and bears fruit, the cord retains its strength and stability, while at the end of the season the cord does not require to be removed manually and disposed of separately – it can be composted together with vegetable mass and completely decomposes in the soil. This compost can be used as early as next season without cleaning or adding fertilizer. The cord does not have a toxic effect on plants, microorganisms, water, or soil, and functions in harmony with nature. Interest in the product has already been shown by local greenhouse farms, which together with the product developers studied and tested the biodegradability of the product and confirmed the success of the product’s closed-loop technology when growing plants in greenhouses.  

The third winner of the national round of the biomimicry competition came up with a unique device for obtaining alternative energy from the movement of tree branches.  The design of the device was inspired by the way the biplane muscles of insects work. For example, one nerve impulse causes hundreds of asynchronous contractions of fight muscles of the fly. This process helps to increase the frequency of wing beats and improves the quality of the insect’s flight. The team, led by the youngest participant of the national competition – Olena Kovalenko, a student of the 10th grade of the Polytechnic Lyceum of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute – were also inspired by the way sharks track their victims: they have electromagnetic receptors in which an electric current is generated in response to the magnetic fields generated by their prey. In effect, the shark makes use of the law of electromagnetic induction when hunting. In turn, the device generates renewable energy from branch movements using the phenomenon of electromagnetic induction, which the shark also uses, while electromagnetic coils mounted on elastic elements (swings) allow high-frequency oscillations to be produced from the tree branch movements – based on the same principle as the fly’s wing muscles. The device can form the basis of a decentralized power supply system for recharging phones, lighting, powering mobile and GPS sensors, video monitoring of forest areas, etc.  

During the Biomimcry Pitch Day, the public also voted for the best three projects. The opinion of the public almost mirrored the decision of the jury – only one project favoured by the majority of the public was not also selected by the jury. This was the project "Ecocanalization" by 16-year-old Uliana Lumey, who created a dirt-repelling coating for the inside of sewer pipes that mimics the nanostructure of lotus leaves. The young researcher focused her research on the problem of sewage, 80 percent of which in the world is not filtered at all – it gets into the soil and causes environmental disasters. Uliana demonstrated that there is a technical solution to the problem that does not require the excessive use of water for the separation of human waste and its further processing. In her free time, she maintains a video blog and encourages children to study science. In particular, she plans to publish a fairy tale book in which she will tell children about science and scientific discoveries in accessible language. Uliana is illustrating her book and her blogs by herself.

You can learn more about the competition to find innovations that use biomimicry at this link.

You can also join a group of like-minded people on Facebook here.

Note:

This is the second year the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine has organized the National Biomimicry Challenge in Ukraine (read about last year’s competition here). The challenge aims to help  people overcome the consequences of crises and shocks from global changes brought on by excessive anthropogenic pressures, such as: climate change, irresponsible consumption and production, the decline of ecosystems, the destruction of biodiversity, drought, lack of drinking water, rapid urbanization, etc.

The initiator of the project is UNDP Accelerators Lab in Ukraine.

This year the project was carried out in partnership with the Institute of Biomimicry (United States), and a number of partners: the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Future business incubator of the National Centre of the Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, the "Biodiversity Foundation of Ukraine" Charitable Foundation, NGO "Plato",  NGO "Innovative  University", the "Synhro Prostir"Innovation Hub for the cities, and the Responsible Future Change Agency. Businesses, local authorities and universities also participated.

Text: Klaudia Shevelyuk, Oksana Udovyk, Olena Tarasova, and Oleksandr Sushchenko

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