Plyskin: insulation inspired by polar bear skin

Animal skin is a great source of inspiration for material designers. Earlier, we saw researchers developing material for wetsuits inspired by sea otter fur. For his graduation project at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, the Netherlands, designer Lindey Cafsia has developed an insulation material called Plyskin that mimics the skin ánd fur of a polar bear.

The polar bear can survive extremely low temperatures thanks to its efficient fur and skin. It consists of three layers. The outer layer, the fur, consists of guard hair and shorter dense underfur. This fur is slightly translucent, so the heat of the sun can penetrate to the second layer, namely the skin. This skin is black, which absorbs the heat of the sun. The third layer is blubber and functions as insulation.

Cafsia believes that mimicking the thermic function of the polar bear’s skin can provide for efficient insulation for our homes. He started his research because of the health risks that traditional insulation materials pose on its users. Plyskin is made of all biobased and recyclable materials.

The insulation consists of three layers. The outer layer is a white ‘fur’ made from recyclable polyamide, which looks and feels like hair. This layer is translucent and has an insulating function, because the ‘hairs’ capture stationary air. The second layer has a honeycomb structure, which makes the panel stiff. It also absorbs a part of the heat radiation. The third is a black, hollow layer that is filled with heat absorbing material, which functions as heat buffer. These two layers are made from PET and biobased PLA. The prototype of the skin was 3D printed.

The thermic performance is based on both conductivity and radiation of heat, like a polar bear’s skin, though the latter needs to be researched further. Plyskin complies with the minimum requirements of the construction decree for renovation in the Netherlands. Unlike most insulation materials, the material invites to be placed on the outside of the façade, giving the house a unique look – that seems suitable for petting.

The Dutch construction company Sto also has façade insulation inspired by polar bears, but in a much less hairy execution.

Plyskin was exhibited at the Dutch Design Week 2016 (22 – 30 October).

Photos: Lindey Cafsia