New ideas for organic waste

Natural ingrediants in material innovation

form 237
March/April 2011


Birkhäuser (Basel)

Cow stomachs, algae, sea-grass balls or camel hair: organic waste is very popular with material developers at the moment. Not only industrial manufacturers but also designers are amongst the inventors of this new material culture.

Designer Mandy den Elzen from the Netherlands has been experimenting with natural materials for some time now. For example, she creates vases and containers with an interesting transparency, whose production involves cooked algae fibers. For her latest project she is transforming parts of cow’s stomachs into leather. Thanks to the hexagonal structured elements, rumen leather reminds you of fur. The pieces measure 400 by 500 millimeters, are three millimeters thick and almost translucent.

Under the name of Sensofil Eco, outdoor specialist Vaude has launched a sleeping bag filling, which delivers excellent sleeping comfort thanks to the camel hair it contains. The wispy natural fibers trap a large amount of air and provides high insulation. The filling also contains recycled polyester and the cellulose fiber Tencel, which is gained from wood, is completely biodegradable. Moreover, Tencel fibers are excellent at regulating moisture absorbing up to 50 percent more moisture than cotton and still remain soft.

One of the most interesting current material developments is a project by Richard Meier, construction material expert at SRH Heidelberg College. Thanks to him, the balls of sea grass that can be found on the beaches in Tunisia or Sicily can now be used as house insulation material. The balls are naturally flame retardant and have thermal conduction of just 0.037 to 0.049 watts per Kelvin and meter. These properties make them ideal for use in the construction trade just as they are. Moreover, the fibers hardly rot, as they only contain tiny amounts of salt and no proteins. The material has undergone construction physics tests, and the balls are now available under the name “Neptutherm”.

The packaging center Graz is currently developing a new weaving technique for tear-resistant mesh textiles so that natural fibers with less resistance can be put to much greater use in mesh textiles. During weaving every thread is wound twice around the other thereby producing the desired tear-resistance while reducing the material needed to a minimum.

image source: Richard Meier