Just like sea levels and global temperatures, biomaterials are on the rise. Essentially defined as a substance engineered to take a form used to interact with components of living systems, the roughly half- century-old science has traditionally been used for diagnostic or therapeutic procedures. It was only a matter of time before it seeped into the commercial world.
Not to add to the disgruntled folk grousing about consumerism but at the consumption rate we’re speeding through, it’s only natural (ha!) to look to biodegradable matter as a solution to the mounting landfills. Sprinkle a little creativity and these alternative constructs transform into a teeming well of potential. Learn about the intriguing biobased materials from cow blood to cigarette butts, and the creative minds behind them.
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It’s grimy; it’s stinky. We could be talking about your old underwear, except what we’re referring to here contains 90 percent calcium carbonate that’s similar to the composition found in limestone. We’re talking about discarded seafood shells—seven million tons annually.
It was this extravagant aquafarming waste that caught the attention of Jihee Moon and Hyein Choi. Then just design products students at London’s Royal College of Art with a keen interest in sustainable design for the future, the pair landed on what the seafood industry neglected.
“We have seen natives in South Korea living near the country’s many mussel and oyster farms suffering from the odours of the waste, and it is also not good to see discarded shells piling up near the seaside,” they share of their story from witnesses with concern to officially investing their interest in the field as Studio newtab-22.
Project Sea Stone has since gone on to produce mirrors and vases amongst numerous other domestic design products. Decorative wall panel Shelluminator marks one of the largest uses of the material. Available in four colours and three types each, the pieces look no different from regular concrete tiles, save for the glimmers of natural iridescence winking in the light.
“We intend for the project to showcase the connection from debris state to the beautiful state as a home interior object so that you can see the long journey these discarded shells have travelled.”
You see the shells processed, ground, then mixed with mineral, sand and natural, non-toxic binders, following a unique recipe which the duo had developed for over a year, across hundreds of tests. The project has been commercialised and featured at several design fairs, most notably Maison&Objet in Paris this month.
“We are quite excited about it,” they enthuse. Translating the material research in the academic stage into a viable commodity for the real world was the most difficult aspect initially. “We had to keep questioning and answering ‘How are we going to use it?’, ‘Are there people who really need it?’ and ‘How can we produce it in large volumes to meet people’s demand?’.
The project does not just stop where hot keywords ‘sustainability’ meets ‘modern life design’. There lies a drive to influence change with the outcome of their work. “What sustainability means to us is not only to consider the result but the process as well,” they divulge.
Moon and Choi critically evaluate whether the process is harming the environment and aims to minimise the pollution factor. For instance, the London and Seoul-based studio currently avoids using high heat energy, excessive electricity and chemical treatments via manual manufacturing.
“As everyone knows, the world suffers from environmental issues such as climate change, air and plastic pollution, which many have tried to solve. We as designers are conscious of these problems and try to face one at least of them,” the duo say.