Bosnian designer Nataša Perković recycled the fibrous waste from palm oil factories to create the Reclaimed Oil Palm collection, which was made using as little material as possible.
Comprising a 3D-printed, stackable chair, three plates and a pendant lamp, the collection was developed in a bid to turn the byproducts of the palm oil industry from an "environmental nuisance" into a sustainable material.
Oil palm is grown for its oil, which is extracted from the plant's small seeds that are wrapped in fibre and housed inside kernels. A large amount of fibre is leftover from this process, which is mainly burned for energy or left on the ground as fertiliser.
"There are much better ways to use this cellulose material," said Perković.
"Currently the oil palm industry is, for the main part, an environmental culprit – responsible for deforestation leading to climate change and loss of wildlife," she continued.
"It's unlikely that global consumption of palm oil will drop radically, so the challenge is to make production sustainable."
Designed to showcase the material properties of the newly developed oil palm-waste composite, Perković and her team at the Kyoto Design Lab aimed to use a minimal amount of material as possible while still maintaining structural stability.
"Waste fibre from industrial oil palm processing is a major byproduct in Southeast Asia, but its potential as a design material has yet to be explored," said Perković. "This project aimed to make something precious out of nothing."
"The physico-chemical properties of the waste fibre were studied alongside developments in bio-based material science to enable this discarded material to gain a high-end aesthetic and a functional value," she added.
A mixture of high-tech and low-tech production methods were used when creating the products in order to demonstrate the diversity of the material.
The high-tech approach was used to create the chair, and involved blending oil palm tree fibre micro powder with polylactic acid (PLA) – a bioplastic made from lactic acid – to form a new composite material.
This composite can then be made into filament for 3D printing, or alternatively as pellets for injection moulding. If produced on an industrial scale, the chair would be made using injection moulding. Perković's model, however, has been 3D printed.
Perković opted for a rounded design to make the chair both "welcoming" and "neutral", able to fit in with/complement a variety of interiors with different styles.
Visible oil palm fibres are embedded in the material, and work to reinforce the PLA whilst giving it a more natural aesthetic and surface than ordinary plastics.
The chair also features a removable cushion-like element, which is made from a blend of oil palm fibre and a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE), otherwise known as thermoplastic rubber.
To ensure each design – particularly the chair – can be sustainably disposed of at the end of its life, Perković avoided using more than one substance, as it is difficult and costly to separate multi-material products.
The chair and its padded element are both biodegradable in communal composts and can be recycled together with other PLA.
In addition to this, the cushion has been "wedged" and not bonded to the seat, making the two parts easy to separate if the user wishes to recycle them individually.
"The goal was for the composite to be extremely strong, and for its production process and life cycle to be as clean as possible," Perković explained.
"With its natural component, the new material should age more gracefully than conventional plastics, thus presenting an acceptable alternative to fossil-fuel plastics, as well as having a more positive environmental impact," she added.
Low-tech production methods were used to demonstrate how the waste material could be used to create household objects like bowls, plates and lamps.
Perković and her team experimented with traditional paper-making and compression moulding techniques to create the items, first soaking, boiling, beating and then finely shredding the oil palm fibre.
The fibre was then blended with Japanese denpun nori rice paste to form a "slurry-like" mixture, and strained through a concave sieve before being formed into sheets using flat mesh screens, or moulded into three dimensional shapes, and left to air-or oven-dry.
According to the designer, this low-tech process of repurposing waste oil palm fibre using basic kitchen equipment and minimal energy could be adopted in developing countries using other cellulose waste fibres such as wood or bamboo.
Each product boasts a simple, parred-back design in order to [accentuate]/highlight the qualities of the composite material.
Perković finished the objects in renewably sourced surface coatings such as carnauba palm tree wax, kakishibu persimmon juice varnish and cashew varnish.
Another project using waste materials was a series of low-cost solar lamps by six students from the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, who experimented with unusual, natural waste materials such as coconut bark, beans and cactus slime.
The lamps use solar cells and LED technology to offer a sustainable solution to the need of nearly seven million Mexicans living in isolated rural areas with limited or no access to electricity.
Project director: Julia Cassim
Emeritus professor: Teruo Kimura
Associate professor: Yoko Okahisa
Centre for Advanced Fibro-Science: Haruhiro Ino and Kazushi Yamada
Digital Factory: Tomohiro Inoue
Wood Factory: Yoshinori Shiki, Katsumi Kawabata and Shin Yamashita
Acknowledgements: Kazunari Masutani, Sommai Pivsa-Art, Kiyoaki Ishimoto and Nichinan Pansroy
Photography: Tomomi Takano