Dec 4, 2017 | By Tess

Dutch design duo Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros have created a 3D printable biomaterial made from algae. The new filament, which is currently featured in the “Change the System” exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, could offer an eco-friendly alternative to fossil and oil-based plastics.

Klarenbeek and Dros, both graduates from the Design Academy Eindhoven, have been working towards the development of a sustainable, environmentally friendly polymer material for some time. Klarenbeek, for his part, has been working on the development of 3D printable biomaterials for at least the last six years (he even created the world’s first 3D printed chair made from living fungus).

Now, however, Klarenbeek and Dros have been working with a different type of natural material to create a printable biopolymer: algae. In short, the designers have developed a method for cultivating living algae, drying it out, and transforming it into a 3D printable filament.

According to the designers, this eco-material could be used to manufacture a broad range of commonly used products, including shampoo bottles, garbage bins, tableware, and more. Ultimately, they hope to be able to scale up their algae-growing system in a localized way in order to replace fossil and oil-based plastics completely.

Notably, algae not only presents environmental benefits because it is natural, but it is also capable of filtering out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, algae itself grows through the absorption of CO2.

As the design duo explains, “The algae grow by absorbing the carbon and producing a starch that can be used as a raw material for bioplastics or binding agents. The waste product is oxygen, clean air.” And what's more eco-friendly than clean air?

“As designers, we love nothing more than producing mass: products and materials,” they added. “So, for us it's the golden formula. Everything that surrounds us—our products, houses and cars—can be a form of CO2 binding. If we think in these terms, makers can bring about a revolution. It's about thinking beyond the carbon footprint: instead of zero emissions we need ‘negative' emissions.”

The innovative materials research, which has been supported for the past three years by Wageningen University, Salga Seaweeds, Avans Biobased Lab in Breda, and other organizations, recently came to the attention of the Luma Foundation in Arles, France.

Now, Klarenbeek and Dros are splitting their research time between their lab in the Netherlands and their open research and algae production lab at the Luma Foundation. In the Netherlands, the duo are working on cultivating seaweed, while the Arles-based lab is growing local algae. Both materials are being used to produce the same products, however.

“Both have exactly the same form, but they are made from local materials. This is the change we believe in; designing products that are distributed via the internet but made locally,” explained the designers.

Going forward, the team is hoping to establish what they call a “3D Bakery,” which would essentially be a “local network of biopolymer 3D printers.” Kind of like 3D Hubs, but just for environmentally friendly algae-based 3D printing.

"Our idea is that in the future there will be a shop on every street corner where you can 'bake' organic raw materials, just like fresh bread,” said Klarenbeek. “You won't have to go to remote industrial estates to buy furniture and products from multinational chains. 3D printing will be the new craft and decentralized economy.”

Though it may be awhile before we see 3D Bakeries popping up, Klarenbeek seems confident they could become a reality within the next ten years.

The designers are currently exhibiting their 3D printed algae samples at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. As part of the exhibition, Klarenbeek and Dros are even growing algae in the museum’s pond, which they will transform into a filament and use to 3D print a replica of a glass object from the museum.

If you happen to be in the Rotterdam area, the exhibition is on until January 14, 2018.

(Images: Florent Cardin, Studio Klarenbeek & Dros)

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Materials

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