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Innovative Reforestation Wins Ray of Hope Prize

The Atlantic rainforest in Brazil is a unique ecosystem. June 1, 2017 (Photo by Ulrich Peters) Creative commons license via Flickr

The Atlantic rainforest in Brazil is a unique ecosystem. June 1, 2017 (Photo by Ulrich Peters) Creative commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

SAN RAFAEL, California, October 23, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – A Brazilian team of entrepreneurs has won the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation 2018 Ray of Hope Prize for the Nucleário Planting System, an all-in-one reforestation solution that mimics elements of natural forest progression to reduce maintenance costs and improve seedling survival rates.

With deforestation contributing an estimated 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, countries, nonprofit organizations and innovators are mobilizing to quickly restore foreststo avoid catastrophic climate change.

Developed for the use in Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest, Nucleário was designed for multiple functions – collecting rain and dew water, providing protection from leaf cutter ants and invasive species, supplying shade for the seedling, and deployment from the air.

Applied in the field, the Nucleário Planting System makes the forest restoration process simpler and more cost-effective. With this method, Nucleário can get more trees in the ground in less time, helping make it possible to achieve environmental goals like the Paris Agreement on climate.

Nucleário was created by Bruno Rutman Pagnoncelli, Pedro Rutman Pagnoncelli, and Bruno Ferrari. The Nucleário team was awarded the prize at the National Bioneers Conference in San Rafael on Saturday, October 20.

The Ray of Hope Prize is the top award in the Biomimicry Launchpad, an accelerator program run by the Biomimicry Institute that supports entrepreneurs working to bring early-stage biomimetic, or nature-inspired, climate change solutions to market.

Traditional rain forest restoration approaches in remote areas are logistically complex and expensive, requiring manual work and periodic visits to the reforestation areas.

Currently, 17 million hectares (14.2 million acres) of degraded areas are designated as potential lands for Atlantic forest restoration in Brazil.

Inspired by winged seeds, bromeliads, and forest leaf litter, Nucleário is a reforestation solution for forests in degraded and hard to reach areas, helping seedlings grow without human maintenance.

Made of biodegradable materials, the Nucleário device ensures that seedlings survive by providing a protection from leaf cutter ants, collecting water from rain and dew, offering shade, and protecting against invasive species.

Like anemochory seeds, the Nucleário is structured to be weightless and incorporate air chambers, which allows it to act as both a glider and parachute and enables aerial deployment.

Each Nucleário contains a functional group of tree species ready to germinate. Inspired by the bromeliad’s hydraulic specialization, the Nucleário trap shape accumulates dew and rain water and reduces evaporation, slowly hydrating the seedlings during the dry seasons. The water accumulation also attracts biodiversity.

The Nucleário shape emulates the leaf litter in a forest, stopping the Brachiaria grass growth around the seedling and protecting the soil against leaching and strong sunlight, which elevates soil moisture and fertility.

In the field, the Nucleário improves the working conditions of the planting teams and reduces costs for labor, transport, irrigation, fertilizers and insecticides.

It mimics how bromeliads collect water from rain and dew to provide a microclimate that attracts biodiversity.

“This simple but impactful biomimicry-inspired innovation has the potential to transform reforestation efforts and help reverse global warming,” said John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

“The six judges were impressed with all of the teams, but the Nucleário stood out because they have a clear understanding of the path to commercialization,” said Lanier.

Brazil is one of the main producers and exporters of agricultural products, with more than 300 million hectares destined to agriculture, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics. But this sector is also responsible for tons of carbon in the atmosphere, warming the planet.

The Brazilian government has said it intends to reforest 12 million hectares by 2030, as a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

A set of studies by the Center for Sustainability Studies of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation and Instituto Escolhas calculated the resources needed to achieve this goal. The estimated investment cost was $31 billion Brazilian Reals (€7.9 billion) (US$8.3 billion).

Beth Rattner, Biomimicry Institute executive director, said, “30 by 30 – land use being 30 percent of climate change solutions by 2030 – is the most promising news on the horizon because it is highly feasible. Reforestation is a real part of this plan and yet most efforts on this front are failing because young saplings need extra help to survive.”

“Nucleário has captured proven strategies straight from the forest to make their product, which is something no one else has tried before,” said Rattner. “We are immensely hopeful about the impact this will have.”

A $25,000 Ray of Hope second prize, funded by an anonymous donor, went to a team with members from Mexico and the United States, who created Biomimicry Launchpad, a thermal management system that harvests waste heat from large commercial buildings and cycles it back into the system.

The BioThermosmart design was inspired by elephants, crocodiles, toucan beaks, and the human circulatory system to create a system of heat transfer patches that help facility directors manage excess heat.

A total of six international teams spent the past year in the Biomimicry Launchpad, the world’s only accelerator for early-stage, nature-inspired innovations.

The Launchpad is part of the Biomimicry Institute’s Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, a global competition sponsored by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation that asks innovators to create radically sustainable climate change solutions inspired by the natural world.

As winners of the Challenge, these teams were invited to join the Biomimicry Launchpad to get support in testing and prototyping their ideas, with the ultimate goal of bringing their climate change solutions to market.

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 challenge.biomimicry.org.

Featured Image: The Nucleário Planting Device is a winner. (Photo by Nucleário Planting System) Posted for media use


The Power of Reforestation in China

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Before the Chairman Mao regime came into power, China was a heavily forested country. In fact, the Forbidden City was made entirely out of wood. When Mao took over, he wanted to make China a steel country, during the Great Leap Forward (1958–62). He forced every farmer to use backyard steel furnaces for steelmaking, which required vast amounts of wood to maintain the intense level of heat required for their furnaces. A massive deforestation effort took place to support Mao’s wishes. As a result, China tore down millions of acres of forests, which has had an enormous impact on the environment.

Take air pollution in Beijing, for example. According to data gathered by the US Embassy in the nation’s capital, Beijing experienced 200 days in 2014 in which the air pollution was considered “unhealthy”. Only 10 days of that year were deemed “good”.

People are starting to stand up and take notice. Today, China has the world’s largest reforestation program. During a recent visit, I drove four hours straight along one of its reforestation programs. Because of my work as an architect and my consequential plane travel, I wanted to personally offset my carbon footprint by planting trees there. That’s why I started a reforestation initiative in China in 2014, which has since planted over 6,000 trees. Within 17 years, the forest will grow so thick as to bring down the area’s temperature by 2.5 degrees Celsius. The cooling effect will lead to more rain, which will lead to more trees and so the cycle continues.

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Wolfgang Frey at Chinese reforestation program site.

The purpose for our reforestation project is to try to minimize our CO2 emissions by offsetting our carbon footprint. In general, we build passive houses, which are a low carbon alternative to traditional construction that requires very little heating or cooling. At the same time, even passive houses emit some level of CO2. However, not building is not an alternative.

One alternative is, however, to build with wood. Our Woodhouse project, which was showcased at the Expo in Shanghai 2010, was built with the amount of wood it would have taken to heat the building for 20 years. We had a double CO2 savings effect: first, it is a house built according to the passive house standard and does not use much oil or wood to heat (CO2 savings #1). Second, we substituted materials with a large carbon footprint such as concrete or materials that need to be burned by wood (CO2 savings #2).

Wood pellets as a heat source are more than troublesome because the emission stemming from burning wood in private ovens is a) not regulated and b) is catastrophic for the environment.

I grew up in the Black Forest in Germany. My father would chop down a tree and leave the roots, crown and branches to regenerate the soil through composting. Today, the entire tree is taken, which is an environmental disaster. This low-grade wood is especially used for pellets. 50% of minerals are in the roots and crown of the tree. Removing them from the forest floor leaves the soil barren. Deforestation and desertification are inevitable outcomes.

The good news is we architects have developed a few solutions to the world’s environmental problems. Through smart buildings, smog prevention and reforestation, we can make a difference. In my view, everyone should live more sustainably, whether they are architects or not.

While there are many ways to build in a sustainable and mindful fashion, our environment is always impacted in some way by construction. The goal is to minimize our negative impact by offsetting our carbon footprint, becoming more aware of the ultimate outcome of our building decisions. Plastic window casings, for instance, have a much higher recyclability than wooden framed windows. At first glance, wood may seem like the more ecological choice. Over the long term, it is not.

There are two major challenges to creating environmentally sustainable buildings: technology and psychology. How do we technologically solve our challenge to build sustainably? We have many ways to do that, starting with passive houses. Second, how do we improve people’s mindsets so they live more sustainably? That is the larger challenge, I think. Nonetheless, both issues have to be kept in mind in order to create environmentally sustainable buildings.

Sustainability needs to be trendy so people will catch on. The trend then needs to move toward durability, much like seat belt laws. What was once optional is now mandatory and most people abide by it without even thinking. A sustainable lifestyle should be as automatic. That is at least the goal.


portrait-wolfgang-freyWolfgang Frey, a dynamic, sought-after public speaker and architectural visionary, has headed Frey Architekten since 1991. Founded in 1959 by Friedrich Frey, the architectural office is located in the German eco-city of Freiburg im Breisgau. As one of the pioneers in sustainable architecture, Frey Architekten has been using solar panels since 1972. In addition, the office has an international presence in China, Russia and other parts of Europe. www.freyarchitekten.com