The main (bio)material we used for our latest Bio Uncu Maker is based on Agar agar, a gelatinous substance made with an extract of red algae abundant on the Pacific coast of Peru and Chile.
Did you know that this biomaterial is biocompatible with human skin? And the fact that this considerably reduces the probability of an allergic reaction occurring?
Another amazing fact is that Agar agar bioplastics affect touch capacitive screens! Amazing, right?!
Our research and development process began with the generation of the biomaterial, which brought us many lessons learned that we want to share with our future bio makers:
Tip 1: Agar agar’s Powder form dissolves faster and more evenly
Agar is available in three different formats (bars, granules, and powder). Because agar needs to be heated to 90°C to dissolve properly in liquid, the powdered form is easiest to work with. If you are using bars or flakes, we suggest you break them into a powder first, using a coffee or spice grinder. The powder form dissolves faster and more evenly.
Tip 2: Start with a basic recipe and then try different combinations of Agar agar, Glycerine and Distilled water.
An additional thing to know is that a bioplastic made with Agar agar may ‘sweat’ when in humid weather. To prevent this, you may add a little bit of corn starch (corn flour) with Agar agar into the liquid that you are cooking it in.
There are many recipes, but you start your journey with those ingredients that you can find in your community or closest ecosystem, but also keep in mind what type of possible applications of your new biomaterial you can explore and validate further.
Tip 3: Check Ph of liquids vehicle and natural dyes
If you’re going to add some natural dyes, the best way to include them in your recipe is to add them at the end of the cooking process. In addition, it is very important that you monitor the level of pH of the liquid solution because Agar agar is sensible to acid pH levels and to the concentration of Calcium in the solution. Therefore for all your liquid ingredients make sure you always use filtered water.
Take in consideration that some natural colors can be thermosensitive (Spiruline and beet for example), therefore you must add them at the very end of your cooking process to prevent any fading.
Tip 4: Documentation and Registration of your Bioplastic Journey
This is key for documenting all the lessons learned during your bio-making journey. Excel sheets can help at the beginning for effectively following up a sample’s progress. Don’t forget to include photos. All the morphological transformations will be key for identifying each resulting biomaterial’s possible applications: rugosity, transparency, brightness, flexibility, hardness and density.
Tip 5: Natural dyes preparation
Colour’s selection depends on the concept of your bio project. But here you can find some very useful guidelines for preparing your natural dyes. For example, for our Bio Uncu project we decided to go for an Andean Palette of Colours made with Purple Corn and Annatto.
Tip 6: Bubbling control and heating
Having in mind Agar agar bioplastics cool quickly, it is very important to control bubbling before pouring the mixture into the molds. You can stir the bubbles with a spoon or pass the hot mixture through a colander. If you want to remove them in a professional manner, there is specialized equipment for it called Vacuum Bubble Removers.
Another very important method is by controlling the temperature of your preparation, just make sure it does not exceed the 90-95 Celsius degrees.
Tip 7: Surfaces of molds
Ideal surfaces for Agar agar bioplastics are glass, textiles with high thread counts of 250 or more and high-density textiles. It will depend on the type of transparency and texture you would like to accomplish.
Tip 8: Cooking Time and Volume
Cooking time will depend on the volume of your mixture. For samples between 300ml to 500ml the cooking time over moderate heat is approximately 30min and for volumes greater than 500ml the ideal cooking time is 40 to 45min. Do not forget to control the temperature and shake the mixture continuously to avoid the formation of lumps.
Tip 9: How to make an Agar agar bioplastic stronger
Researchers at Tuskegee University in Alabama found that adding nanoparticles made of eggshells to bioplastic increases the strength and flexibility of the material, potentially making it more attractive for use in the packaging industry.
You may experiment with adding other additives (fibers, organic waste; etc) that will make your samples more tough and resistant.
Tip 10: The drying and testing process
Agar agar bioplastics shrink a lot in size and thickness over time, and if left in a mold where it’s connected to wooden edges, will form cracks in the center. So, make sure to cut the agar free from the edges of the mold after the first 24 hours of setting.
Wait and dry, typically 2-4 days before you remove your samples from the mold. The morphologic and biomechanical tests of your samples must be done after the second week though.
One very important thing is to let the samples dry in a well ventilated, insulated and dry environment to prevent the samples from mold.
I hope these tips will be useful for you as a good starting point for your journey as future bio makers!
Biomimicry is one of the main innovative approaches that is currently used for sustainable fashion design. There is a rapidly growing demand for an effective sustainable design approach in fashion, architecture among other industries, and without compromising the needs of future generations, but very few have proven effectiveness at a macro scale. This is because innovative biomimicry is still an emerging discipline in a development phase. So how upcoming technologic innovations are being inspired by nature and developing the “new normality garments and accessories”?
Shielding Technology inspired by Nature
Over thousands of years, nature and animals have continuously evolved to overcome challenges and adapt to everchanging environments. Here are two good examples: Goldenberry‘s calyx is a great example of the amazing natural shielding properties. If Goldenberry’s fruit is left inside the intact calyx’s husks, then fruit’s shelf life at room temperature can last up to 45 days, maintaining its firmness, acidity, lower ethylene production, less weight loss. The calyx is definitely inedible. A second example is melanized fungi, since It has been demonstrated that it exhibits protection against ionizing radiation and the protective effect of melanin can be transferred to organisms that do not produce the pigment.
Additionally, there are inspiring technologies that will affect our everyday lives like Camouflaging Material’s inspired by the Octopus’ skin and Adhesion Systems based on Gecko’s gravity defying grip.
All above demostrates that biomimicry applied into sustainable design will soon deliver a new generation of products and services that are changing the way we interact each other and with our ecosystems during this “New Normality” post Covid19 context.
New Normality of Fashion Garments and Accesories
According to WGSN Future Consumer 2022 Report, the COVID19 pandemic is the biggest global driver of change seen for a long time, resulting in the evolution of numerous consumer attitudes. Therefore, most sectors are being pushed to adapt, as we are faced with a reality that demands from people and businesses alike flexibility, resilience and mostly creativity.
Another market research institution Opinno revealed, that if any business aims to adapt to the new “normality”, then they must become agile sustainable innovators and continuously co-create with clients. One of the 10 trends that has been mentioned is Social Hypochondria: Wellness, Health and Hygiene. For this reason future technologic revolutions like quantified people, assisted diagnosis, personalized treatments, telemedicine and wearables are getting more relevance.
There are many advances applied into the fashion industry looking for delivering clothing with enhanced skin functions, such as shielding towards different external hazards, sensation, thermal regulation and absorption of vitamin D. For instance, textiles made with bioplastics, bioluminescence bacteria, nanofibers and biosensors, complemented with coded sensors have set the minimum base for the future smart clothing.
Therefore, since there is a growing need for fashion garments and accessories, that work with nature to create a regenerative ecosystem at all levels, then designers must become more loving, aware, respectful with nature for a more sustainable future.
During this Lockdown Economy caused by COVID19, our hygiene habits and protocols have changed. Some accessories, such as facemasks or face shields will remain as part of our fashion essentials for a while, as they had been declared mandatory since last May 2020.
Environmental Impact of Personal Protection Equipment PPE (New Shielding Accesories)
Therefore, many fashion brands have launched different models of facemasks made with sustainable materials and others have opted for less sustainable, semi-synthetic materials, but with filters that offer different levels of protection against biological and chemical haazards.
Most of the disposable facemasks are made from plastics including polypropylene, polythene and vinyl, materials that will end into the oceans and take up to 450 years to decompose. Fashion is already the second most polluting industry in the planet, therefore, we can’t continue consuming without awareness, respect and care for the environment.
According to a study in the Environmental Science and Technology’s Journal, an estimated 129 billion disposable face masks and 65 billion gloves are used every month worldwide. Therefore, we should start developing solutions to reduce, mitigate and eliminate de main causes of current sanitary crisis and implement waste management good practices at all levels.
One of the main environmental impact of synthetic facemasks is that unfortunately most of them are released and absorbed into the oceans. Thereafter, plastics break down into smaller pieces over time, and the longer litter is in the environment, the more it will decompose. Plastics first break down into microplastics and eventually into even smaller nanoplastics. These tiny particles and fibres are often long-lived polymers that can accumulate in food chains (marine biodiversity). Just one mask can produce millions of particles each, with the potential to also carry chemical hazards and bacteria up the food chain and potentially even into humans.
Reduction of Facemasks’ Environmental Impact – Waste Management
Last March 2018, a study led by the Ocean Cleanup Foundation reported the presence of an entire island of 1.8 billion plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean with an estimated weight of 80,000 tons. Can you imagine how many non-biodegradable and toxic waste, we are generating with the increase in demand for personal protective garments and accessories? What about when domestic and international flights are reestablished? Are you aware of the waste management procedures that have been adopted?
The conservation organization Oceans Asia announced the urgency of creating a second and third life for facemasks, filters, and gloves. In Puerto Llano, Spain a company called Therman had started offering recycling services and this type of initiative must be replicated all over the world.
In Spain, the Senior Council for Scientific Research announced some weeks ago a project developing biodegradable antiviral filters that could be changed daily in masks. Other alternatives include those of KAIST Korea’s science and technology university, , which announced in March that it had succeeded in creating reusable filters that can then be washed, while maintaining efficacy similar to the disposable surgical masks. Or, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which in April announced the launch of facial protection equipment that could be reused after being disinfected; it should be ready for at-scale production and sold at affordable prices.
Sustainable Textiles Research and Development Challenge
In Latin America some shielding textiles had been developed combining natural fibers such cotton, alpaca, silver and copper fibers, based on the anti-bacterial and virucidal properties of these metals. There are still some further research to be made though, since not all of them comply with the medical textiles´s standards.
What about the facemasks that we can made at home? Majority are made with cotton fabric, but will not completely protect the wearer, but they help to reduce the risk of infecting others. Then, a proper protective filter is needed to enhance its shielding features effectively.
If we compare the CO2 footprint of each fabrication process: N95 Facemask footprint is 20% less than homemade ones, but the picture is different after a 30-day usage, since the homemade ones can be reused and washed.
Which actions shall we take to reduce Facemasks’ Environmental Impact?
Use reusable masks without disposable filters. Machine wash them regularly following the instructions for the fabric.
Try to carry a spare so if something goes wrong with the one you’re wearing you don’t need to use or buy a disposable mask.
If you do need to use a disposable mask, take it home (maybe in a bag if you have to take it off) and then put it straight into a bin with a lid. If this isn’t possible, place it in a proper public bin.
Don’t put disposable masks in the recycling. They can get caught in specialist recycling equipment and be a potential biohazard to waste workers.
Whatever you do, don’t litter them!
2020 will be the year that we will remember as a year of social distance, accelerated digitalization, but also a year of COVID19 Waste Impact, as there is an urgent need to disseminate and implement material waste disposal procedures and create recollection/reuse centers for the waste generated by the new protective garments and essentials. Nevertheless, there are various lines of research currently underway aiming to create protective equipment for the public that has less of an impact on the environment.
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