Turning Algae into 3D-Printable Bioplastic

by Thomas Masuch

Dutch designers Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros have developed a bioplastic they hope will eventually replace conventional synthetic materials.

The new substance is based on algae, which the duo dries and transforms into printable material. Klarenbeek and Dros claim that their innovation can conceivably be used for anything currently made of petroleum-based plastic, from plates and shampoo bottles to garbage containers.

This 3D-printable algae is the result of a three-year research effort that involved a number of universities and labs. It also included the establishment of an algae production facility at the LUMA Foundation in Arles, France.

For Klarenbeek and Dros, manufacturing bioplastics goes hand-in-hand with the concept of decentralized production. »We want to change the system in a way that enables people to grow their own materials locally and use them to print the things they need,« Klarenbeek explains. In around 10 years, the designers hope to have witnessed the emergence of a local network of 3D bioplastic printers they call the 3D Bakery. »3D printing is going to be a new, decentralized craft economy,« Klarenbeek reveals.

Klarenbeek and Dros have already examined several biomaterials with an eye toward 3D printing, including mushrooms, potato starch, and bean shells. Six years ago, for example, they used a mushroom to print a chair. The pair more recently showed off products made of their new algae material as part of the Change the System exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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