Potato peels offer a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials
Many of the typical building materials used in construction — like medium-density fiberboard (MDF) — contain toxic materials and formaldehyde, plus they have a shockingly short lifespan and a negative environmental impact. But now there is a new option to these single-use materials — potato waste.
London-based designers Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll as well as research scientist Greg Cooper have developed Chip[s] Board, which is a biodegradable alternative to MDF that is made from non-food-grade industrial potato waste.
This innovative idea for a new building material is free of toxic resins and chemicals and is formaldehyde-free. If we throw it out the same way we do MDF, it doesn’t have the same negative impact on the environment.
Minkley, Nicoll and Cooper wanted to combine the issue of material waste with the problem of food waste, and the result is a sustainable wood substitute made from potato peelings. They collected the peelings from manufacturers and then put them through different refinement processes to create a binding agent. This agent is then applied to fibers like potato skins, bamboo, beer hops and recycled wood.
Then, the team forms the Chip[s] Board by heat pressing the composite into a sheet that can be processed into different products, like furniture and building materials. Once these products reach the end of their lifespan, they can be biodegraded into fertilizer.
The actual details about the making of Chip[s] Board haven’t been disclosed, because Minkley and Nicoll have filed for a patent on their manufacturing process. However, they have revealed that that the pressing process mimics the conditions found in MDF manufacturing, but they replace formaldehyde-based resins with waste-derived, biodegradable binders.
According to the design team, the development of Chip[s] Board involved a lot of trial and error, some hack chemistry and educated guesses, but all of this allowed them to develop strong and usable boards. They are also developing other sustainable materials, which have caught the attention of the fashion industry.