MaterialDistrict

Biofurniture by Roger Bateman

Worldwide, furniture manufacturers that have investigated eco-sustainable furniture production have tended to focus on the recyclability of high-energy embodied technological materials rather than on the utilization of renewably sourced biopolymers that have a wider range of ‘end of life’ options. Furthermore, research into ‘sick building syndrome’ has made us aware of the need for new design solutions and material formulations that will lead to improved and ‘healthy’ indoor environments.

Biofurniture’ is a project that explores the development and use of biodegradable plastics in the production of furniture. ‘Biocabinet’ is a series of modular cabinets by designer Roger Bateman that are 100% biodegrabeable. Bateman became inspired to investigate the development and use of Bioplastics in 2008 whilst living and working in New Zealand when he met with material scientists at SCION, a Crown Research Institute in Rotarua. His work with SCION resulted in an injection mouldable bioplastic chair made of reinforced wood fibres harvested from New Zealand forests. Called ‘Biochair,’ the design features timber legs and bioplastic seat and back.

To deepen his research since arriving at Sheffield Hallam University in 2010, Bateman began searching for UK partners who would be interested in pushing the Biofurniture project further. Working with Chesterfield based Netcomposites, Bateman has developed his Biofurniture project to exploit a composite fabric called ‘Biotex,’ which is made from flax and reinforced with a plant based polymer made from PLA. The fabric is placed into a metal mould which is heated a pressed, resulting in the formation of a biocomposite sheet or shape.

Lengthy experimentation, material and processing analysis undertaken at Sheffield Hallam University and manufacturing trials within Netcomposites’ development lab led to ‘Biotex’ being used as structural, lightweight panel components that replaces otherwise heavy and less environmentally friendly man-made boards, such as mdf or chipboard.

The resulting designs that Bateman produced went on show during London Design Festival 2013 at Coexistence and since then, he has been developing the manufacturing techniques required to produce the ‘Biocabinet’ range.

In describing his work, Bateman says the following: “This project approaches sustainability in a completely different way by making products from renewably-sourced biopolymers. This means that there are more options for disposal of the product at the end of its lifespan – and it can even be composted. I have found that manufacturers are generally warming to the idea of bio-products, but the key principles of simple, honest, quality design must still be applied. It’s also very important that the benefits of using bio-plastics are communicated clearly to the consumer.”

Following the ‘Biocabinet’ series, Bateman has been working with a textile designer to explore printing techniques directly onto the fabric prior to consolidation in the heated tooling. Early trials have proved to be very positive and work is now progressing towards a range of interior products.

We encourage you to find out more about Roger Batement and his innovative work here.

Article by Els Zijlstra

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