We need to find a natural and biodegradable binder that can reach the right consistency within vacuum.
2019 - Present
To impulse technologies
Mycelium based binders
That deal with critical issues
In order to facilitate
Circular furniture supply chain
Bio-Fold stands at the intersection of material technology and cultural strategy. It deals with critical global issues such as plastic waste, soil scarcity and deforestation due to agricultural development. Playing with cultural heritage, the project uses FRAKTA, IKEA’s iconic totebag as a symbolic device for the introduction of an already existing technology: vacuum bagging, in this case, applied to biocomposite materials1.
CAgricultural Waste as a Resource
The global food production industry creates millions of metric tons of agricultural waste every year — mostly in the form of vegetal fibres: straw, husk, leaf, stem, and similar. Currently, only 10% of this material gets put to use.
On a global scale, these natural by-products show significant promise for the production of biodegradable composite materials, or simply biocomposites. Biocomposites are formed by mixing vegetal fibres with a natural binder — such as plant-based resin or bicarbonates — and compressing the material into a solid form.
CMycelium: A Natural Binding Agent
Bio-Fold started as an exploration on mycelium, the root like fibers mushrooms grow from. A natural technology that allows to produce structural and biodegradable materials from organic waste as a result of a natural self-growing process.
Mycelium production, still immature, largely focuses on mould forming techniques. Mould formed structures have the disadvantage that they have long drying times and require a lot of space for its production, which implies problems of scalability. Our project aimed to solve those problems by exploring the possibilities of flat sheets formation as growth strategy to overcome mould limitations.
CVacuum Bagging: A Reinterpreted Technology
Early in the process, we discovered vacuum bagging, an already existing technique used for shaping carbon fiber and plywood in the automotive and furniture industries. We developed a homemade version using packing vacuum bags and a household vacuum cleaner to implement it on mycelium and other biocomposites.
By providing temporary compression, vacuum bagging allows to produce 3-dimensional geometries out of completely flat sheets. Instead of using moulds we folded the sheets to generate self-sustaining structural morphologies.
COur First Prototyping Sprint
Biocomposites based on traditional binders such as plaster or cement are not so sustainable but offer great aesthetics results and structural performance that prove the method.
Biocomposites based on mycelium, which are fully biodegradable offer promising results but still present associated complexities as for example the need of an oven to dry the final pieces and the need of oxygen for mycelium to grow healthy.
The material we have actually been working with is not mycelium(the filler) as much as vacuum plastic bags(the container).In the process, we used a large amount of disposable plastic bags, which defeated our original purpose of a circular and sustainable fabrication method.
If we wanted the technology to be circular, we need to create a recyclable and reusable plastic vacuum bag.
CThe Cultural Twist
Bio-Fold was supported by IKEA’s research and design lab SPACE10. Which would be anecdotic except for the fact that IKEA is the producer of the most iconic and recognisable recycled and reusable bag in the world, FRAKTA.
FRAKTA is an everyday object people can relate to, a cultural icon with intrinsic cultural value. In early 2017, the fashion label Balenciaga hijacked FRAKTA to produce a 2000$ luxury leather bag that replicated the looks of the original. This lead to countless bottom up reactions hacking the 1$ bag to produce all kind of items.
WIth the above material insights and cultural trends in mind the following questions emerged naturally.
Could we close the circle and hack FRAKTA into a reusable vacuum bagging system to do what IKEA does in the first place*, in a playful, affordable and sustainable way?
CHacking the Icon
We produced a step by step guide to transform FRAKTA into a sealable object.
The production of this prototype was developed according to 3 key principles:
Ease of extraction
We used the traditional FRAKTA everyone can find at IKEA as base material and use the most accessible tools for the production of the sealable object.
Opening and closure mechanism would be durable and located on the long side of the bag to facilitate extraction.
We conceptualized an attachment system that frees us from using extra plastic tape and enables the systematization of folding patterns so as to produce replicable shapes.
CThe Digital Twin
Using folding logics and aggregation strategies we design five initial prototypes as a proof of concept, including a chair, a shelving system, two tables, and a stool — each based on the dimensions of the reconstructed FRAKTA shopping bag.
CA homegrown circular furniture supply chain?
Not yet, but while we keep exploring with natural binders, the above elements help to draw the possibility as close and tangible, generate interest and spread the conversation on the material side of things.
More material samples coming soon!