The future of wood- and cellulose-based materials

Students from Chemarts, a collaboration between School of Chemical Engineering (CHEM) and The School of Arts, Design and Architecture (ARTS) of Aalto University in Finland, developed new ways to harness wood and cellulose, the result of which was displayed during Dutch Design Week.

Designer Megan McGlynn worked with material experts focused on shrinkage as an intrinsic quality of drying microfibrillar cellulose (MFC). Encasing geometric tessellations between layers of MFC creates tension in specific directions and produces self-forming curvatures. The encased shapes are 3D printed biodegradable plastic, PLA.

With Plumology, designer Sini West experiments with a combination of chicken feathers and nanocellulose. Feathers have a high protein concentration and technical properties such as low thermal conductivity and waterproofness. Chicken feathers are a by-product of the poultry industry and currently disposed of. With the project, West aims to bring feathers’ value as a biodegradable and renewable raw material to light. The feathers are glued together with nanocellulose, meaning the prototypes are 100% biodegradable.

Designer Noora Yau, Professor Orlando Rojas & material researchers Blaise Tardy and Konrad Klockars at Aalto University School of Chemical Engineering worked on nanocellulose’s iridescent qualities. Its colours are nontoxic and produced only from wood in an economically viable process. Unlike most existing dyes, the structural colour does not fade in sunlight.

Biomass from greenhouse cultivation, like stems and leaves, are generally regarded as waste. In tomato production, stems and leaves amount to about 25% pf yield material in relation to the weight of the yield. These stems and leaves contain a lot of cellulosic fibres, which can be used to manufacture for example packaging material. Meri-Tuuli Porras and a team of material researchers developed samples of all tomato stem waste or a mixture with wood pulp.

Cellulose can also be used to create textile fibres. The Ioncell process makes use of a safe, non-toxic ionic liquid, developed by University of Helsinki Professor Ilkka Kilpeläinen. Designer Anna Semi and the Ioncell research team developed knitted garments of this material, made from cellulose from birch trees.

Finally, Anna-Mari Leppisaari and Anna van der Lei experimented with knit samples and hard blocks of cellulose dyed with a natural blue dye. Blue is the rarest colour in nature, but a Finnish crop called Dyer’s Woad yields a nontoxic blue colour. This dye could potentially replace industrially used chemical colours and reduced water pollution.

Photos: Chemarts