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From Pond Scum to Food Bowl, Dutch Designers 3D-Print Algae Into Everyday Products

Science

You might not think of pond scum as something that's good for the environment, but Dutch designers have developed a bioplastic made from algae that they hope could replace petroleum-based plastics.

According to Dezeen, Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros have been cultivating live algae and processing it into material that can be used for 3D printing. This algae polymer can be churned into everyday items, from shampoo bottles to bowls to trash bins. 


Their innovation can currently be seen at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam as part of its Change the System exhibition.

Klarenbeek and Dros have also 3D-printed from other types of biopolymers, such as mycelium, potato starch and cocoa bean shells. One day, the duo hope to set up a local network of biopolymer 3D printers, which they have dubbed the "3D Bakery."

"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," Klarenbeek told Dezeen. "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."

Klarenbeek believes that the 3D Bakery could be a reality within 10 years.

The designers tout that their project is one way to help stop the planet's unsustainable consumption of fossil fuels.

"All around the world in recent decades enormous amounts of fossil fuels—materials that lay buried in the ground for millions of years—have been extracted," they said. "In this relatively brief period, a vast amount of carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere, with damaging consequences. It is therefore important that we clean the CO2 from the atmosphere as quickly as possible and this can be done by binding the carbon to biomass."

Klarenbeek and Dros researched algae for three years with Wageningen University, Salga Seaweeds, Avans Biobased Lab and other institutions in the Netherlands. They have since established a research and algae production lab at the Luma Foundation in Arles, France.

The pair pointed out that their creations do more than just replace plastic, as algae can also suck up carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that drives global climate change.

"Algae is equally interesting for making biomass because it can quickly filter CO2 from the sea and the atmosphere," they said. "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."

Learn more about the innovation here:

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