Environmentally friendly

Producing bioplastics – design projects with algae, corn starch and other natural substances

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Can biodegradable plastics made from natural substances such as algae replace fossil polymers? There are a number of designers who are already experimenting with bioplastics. These consist of corn starch or crab shells and thus become bioplastics. In this post we have put together some inspiring design projects in this regard, in which the designers create their works using bioplastics. The term “bioplastic” stands for a plastic that is wholly or partially based on organic biomass and not on petroleum. When people make bioplastics, most of them are biodegradable, which in theory is one of their greatest advantages. However, it is easy to confuse some of the common terms. While these sound similar, the bio definition in relation to bioplastics is not interchangeable.

For which applications can bioplastics be produced??

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Did you know that bioplastics have existed for at least 100 years? Corn oil and soybean oil have both been used to make auto parts for some Ford models. In recent years, bioplastics have been used in a wide variety of consumer products such as food containers, grocery bags, biodegradable utensils, and food packaging. These are called commodity plastics and they can also be used for technical applications such as electrical and electronic housings. In short, bioplastics have found their way into almost every industry: automotive, electronics, food and beverage packaging, agriculture, textiles, healthcare, etc..

Producing bioplastics – advantages

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In general, the biggest benefits of a burgeoning bioplastics industry are lower energy requirements and a less polluted ecosystem. The problem of overflowing landfills and floating rubbish islands is theoretically addressed through the increased use of bioplastics. However, not all bioplastics degrade in a reasonable period of time. It is perfectly realistic that some bio-based plastics will remain intact for decades, especially if not properly disposed of.

disadvantage

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It can be very difficult for consumers to distinguish which bioplastics are biodegradable or compostable and which conventional plastics they can use that are otherwise recyclable. For this reason, many bioplastics are not properly disposed of. Some communities don’t even have the ability to sort, compost, or recycle bioplastics.

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For this reason, everything ends up in a landfill anyway. For example, a polylactic acid (PLA plastic) cup looks like conventional polymer. Plus, this one also feels like a consumer tossing it in the trash instead of composting it.

Making biopolymers with 3D printing

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The Dutch designers Erik Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros are trying to set up a network of biopolymer 3D printers called “3D Bakery. This means that people can make and print their own environmentally friendly products as bioplastics. They set up their own facility at Atelier Luma in Arles to demonstrate the concept.

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Called “AlgaeLab”, it offers the possibility of cultivating, harvesting and drying algae so that their starches can be used as raw materials for bioplastics. They have also created advertisements in various locations, such as the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, as well as 3D printed objects with algae.

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The designers believe their project provides a solution to the huge consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere when they become materials like plastic. Scientists attribute rising CO2 emissions to global warming. As a plant variety, algae absorb carbon dioxide during the photosynthesis process, which they use to generate energy. The planners therefore advocate the growth of algae, which are used as production material to reduce global CO2 levels and prevent climate change.

Packaging and pottery made from algae

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Austeja Platukyte has developed a biodegradable material made from algae that could replace conventional petroleum-based plastic packaging. The graduate presented the “That’s It” project in her graduation show at the Vilnius Academy of Arts. It consists of only two components: agar made from algae and a calcium carbonate strengthened by emulsifying agents (wax).

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The designer has proven that the lightweight, waterproof material disintegrates if you let it into the ground and monitor it regularly. She has designed a range of packaging that can replace non-biodegradable forms. The material is strong enough to protect products, but still remains light and waterproof. After its use, it can be composted or used as a fertilizer to maintain soil moisture.

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The packaging can also be thrown away because it naturally deteriorates, creating new layers of chalk. In order to prove the biodegradability of the material, the designer buried packaging at the beginning of the year and regularly monitored its gradual decomposition.

Making furniture using bioplastics

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The fabric for the “Sea Me” furniture collection by Nienke Hoogvliet consists of algae yarn. The material has similar properties to viscose, but contains pulp obtained from seaweed. The designers then use leftover algae from the production process so that they can also make other bioplastics. This has resulted in such small bowls. The team is convinced that in the future we could all live in houses that are completely built and furnished with algae.

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The “Sea Me” collection includes a seat made of fabric that is hand-woven with algae and dyed or refined. Hoogvliet also used seaweed to dye the fabric, with the different species producing different colors accordingly. The collection also includes a side table with a wooden top finished with paint from bladderwrack, another common seaweed in the Netherlands.

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A simple, curved frame in a soft gray-green made of tubular steel supports the chair and the table. Hoogvliet used the remaining materials from furniture manufacturing to create a pair of bioplastic trays made from 100% algae. He first experimented with algae in a carpet that contained seaweed by wrapping it around a fishing net and knotting it.

Corn starch substitute with a bioplastic sole

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The sole of Reebok’s Cotton + Corn sneakers is made of corn, the insole of castor oil. With a cotton upper, the shoe is 75 percent bio-based, but works like any other similar sneaker. The sole is made of propanediol material, which is also used as a bio-based engine coolant and as a glycol element in the manufacture of resins for the shoe and automotive industries.

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The sportswear manufacturer has presented the first product of its sustainability initiative with this pair of bioplastic sports shoes. Reebok launched the program to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the environment, starting with the search for an alternative to the petroleum-based rubber and foam soles. The sneakers are made from 75 percent bio-based material, as certified by the US Department of Agriculture.

Botanical figurines made of bioplastic based on sugar cane

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Lego used a polyethylene plastic made from ethanol from sustainably sourced sugar cane for the trees, leaves and other vegetation in its range. The Danish toy manufacturer aims to manufacture all Lego blocks using bioplastics by 2030. In addition to focusing on this, Lego has invested in wind power to offset the energy needed to make the plastic parts.

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While the plant-shaped parts make up only a small percentage of production, the company’s ultimate goal is to make all bricks with bioplastics by 2030. The first set of sugar cane elements will appear on the shelves in 2018. According to Lego, the new plant-based elements are technically identical to those made from conventional plastic.

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The group has also introduced sustainable pulp bowls for the advent calendars. Other steps Lego is taking to reduce its carbon footprint is investing in wind energy to ensure that the energy used to make the Lego bricks is offset by the generation of renewable energy.

Shellfish bioplastic

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The shell of crustaceans contains chitin, which Jeongwon Ji combined with water and glycerin on an experimental basis to make a bioplastic. The project, known as Crustic, came from an increase in invasive Chinese woolly crabs in British waters. The designer used the creatures seen as pests as a useful resource and used them to create plastic housings for small electronic objects, such as alarm clocks.

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Jeongwon Ji, a graduate of the Royal College of Art, made her own bioplastic from crab shells. She wanted to develop a more tactile case for electronic products and extracted glucose from cancer from it. As a result, she created her own plastic material from trial and error in the laboratory. The water-based mix takes a lot longer than traditional plastics, but the ingredients are completely non-toxic, she explained.

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“Although production time is longer, this non-toxic process can improve the life of those who make our electronics.” Although all patterns are made in precise geometric wood shapes, the material gets rough and warps as it cures, resulting in tactile and organic shapes. “I wanted to challenge the archetypes of electronic products by using tactile surfaces and making shapes that look like they were made out of something else, something natural,” she said.

FORMcard – art card by Peter Marigold

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London-based designer Peter Marigold created a non-toxic but colorful card made of bioplastic the size of a regular credit card. This becomes soft in the water and can be used to design pendants, to repair plastic objects and childproof table edges. Similar to the malleable adhesive made from Sugru rubber, Marigold’s card was made from a corn starch-based bioplastic and contained color pigments instead of the universal pigments commonly used in plastics.

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The starch-based material adheres to other plastics when warm and can therefore be used to hold broken plastic toys or other objects in place. The reusable FORMcard is designed so that it can be carried in a wallet. This means that it is always available for emergency repairs. “The invention is powerful enough to make a simple wrench in an emergency,” said Marigold, who has been experimenting with thermoplastics for two years.

ITKE’s ArboSkin Pavilion

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Students and professors at the ITKE of the University of Stuttgart, a research unit that regularly builds groundbreaking pavilions, constructed this pointed-like curvy pavilion to demonstrate the properties of a bioplastic developed for the construction industry. Arboblend is the name of the material from the German company Tecnaro. It combines biopolymers such as lignin, a by-product of the wood pulping process, to produce thermoformable films from bioplastics. The plates are heated to be formed into the faceted shapes. Plastic waste can be granulated for reuse.

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The double-curved skin is formed by joining the pyramids together, with support rings and beams helping to create load-bearing walls. With the CNC milling, parts of some modules were removed, creating openings in the facade. The waste material from this process can be granulated again and fed back into the production process, while the plastic sheets can be composted at the end of their life.