Four designers from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College of Technology developed a range of machines to convert marine waste into biodegradable and recyclable bioplastics.
The project, Shellworks, witnessed Ed Jones, Insiya Jafferjee, Amir Afshar, and Andrew Edwards transforming crustacean shells into a paper-like material that can be used as a sustainable alternative to single-use plastics.
This material is a mixture of vinegar and a biopolymer called chitin. Chitin is a fibrous substance that forms the cell wall of exoskeletons and fungi of crustaceans.
Designers can change the stiffness and flexibility of materials as needed
Although chitin is the second most abundant biopolymer in the world, it is also necessary to extract chitin from its source in order to convert it into a practical material.
After realizing how expensive it was to buy chitosan (a commercial version of chitin) and how time-consuming the extraction process was, designers decided to develop their own methods. They spent weeks trying to extract even a small amount of chitosan, and they realized that they needed the right tools to do the job.
This group experimented with the production of these five manufacturing machines.
They invented five manufacturing machines, Shelly, Sheety, Vaccy, Dippy and Drippy. Using these five machines, they can convert crustacean shells into different objects and ensure that no additives are added during processing that can affect the recyclability of the final product.
The first machine, called Shelly, is a small extractor that extracts chitin from seafood waste. The designer said that the extractor was designed to fully control each parameter in the process for further experiments at the polymer level of the material.
The transparency of the material can vary depending on the product being made
The other four machines use the specific properties of bioplastic solutions to demonstrate their potential to produce different products such as antibacterial blister packs, food safety bags and self-fertilizing pots.
For example, Sheety is an evaporative sheet former that uses hot air to convert a bioplastic solution into a flat material. They are then glued together in the form of a liquid of bioplastics.
On the other hand, Vaccy is a steam heated vacuum generator. The bioplastic sheet can be made into a molded package and placed in a vacuum shape in the shape of any object.
Dippy is a heated DIP molding machine consisting of two solid metal elements attached to a heat source, immersed in a liquid material and allowed to dry to form a 3D container such as a cup and container.
Use the Drippy hydraulic cycle machine to convert materials into liquid form
The versatility of the material also allows the designer to achieve different material properties by adjusting the ratio of the base components. This means they can control the hardness, flexibility and transparency of the material, as well as the thickness.
Once dried into one of three different forms, the material can then be converted to the original bioplastic solution for infinite recycling. This can be done with a Drippy recycling machine that drops a liquid solution of water and vinegar into a cup containing dry bioplastic chips and gradually turns it into a liquid.
Alternatively, it can be poured into the soil as a natural, non-polluting fertilizer in liquid form.
This material has been used in the manufacture of antibacterial blister packs, food safety bags and self-fertilizing flower pots.
The team hopes to make bioplastics more accessible and more widely adopted by other designers by developing their own manufacturing methods.
In fact, there is a similar project, the designer from Chile, Margarita Talep, created a sustainable, biodegradable alternative disposable package that uses raw materials extracted from seaweed.