Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros don’t just want the world to be carbon neutral, they want it to be carbon negative. Instead of just curbing carbon dioxide emissions, the Dutch designers believe, we should be removing the carbon dioxide we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere. Carbon negative is a big goal, but Klarenbeek and Dros aren’t just fantasizing about a healthier planet – they’re actually doing something about it, by taking something that can be an environmental nightmare and turning it into a useful tool.
Algae, when it appears in large amounts in ponds and lakes, can be both a sign of big problems and a problem in itself – but it’s not always bad. It does, after all, absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen – and it’s an excellent 3D printing material, as it turns out. Klarenbeek and Dros cultivate algae, which they then dry and process into a material for 3D printing. They believe that their algae polymer could eventually entirely replace fossil fuel-based plastics.
Klarenbeek and Dros are both graduates of the Design Academy Eindhoven, and Klarenbeek became known for his work with mycelium, which included 3D printing a chair out of fungus. That led to the development of a commercial line of mycelium-based products called Krown, produced in partnership with Ecovative. Now the pair wants to create a business called 3D Bakery, which would include a network of biopolymer 3D printers printing items from not only algae but things like mycelium, potato starch and cocoa bean shells.
He believes the 3D Bakery could become a reality within the next 10 years. The sooner the better, say the designers.
“Our idea is that in the future there will be a shop on every street corner where you can ‘bake’ organic raw materials, just like fresh bread,” said Klarenbeek. “You won’t have to go to remote industrial estates to buy furniture and products from multinational chains. 3D printing will be the new craft and decentralised economy.”
“All around the world in recent decades enormous amounts of fossil fuels – materials that lay buried in the ground for millions of years – have been extracted,” they said. “In this relatively brief period, a vast amount of carbon dioxide has been released into the atmosphere, with damaging consequences. It is therefore important that we clean the CO2 from the atmosphere as quickly as possible and this can be done by binding the carbon to biomass. As designers, we love nothing more than producing mass: products and materials. So, for us it’s the golden formula. Everything that surrounds us – our products, houses and cars – can be a form of CO2 binding. If we think in these terms, makers can bring about a revolution. It’s about thinking beyond the carbon footprint: instead of zero emissions we need ‘negative’ emissions.”
Klarenbeek and Dros researched algae for three years with several institutions, including Wageningen University, Salga Seaweeds, and Avans Biobased Lab. They were then invited to establish an open research and algae production lab at the Luma Foundation in Arles. It’s no surprise that algae has been used as a 3D printing material before – it’s quite perfect for it.
“Algae is equally interesting for making biomass because it can quickly filter CO2 from the sea and the atmosphere,” said the designers. “The algae grow by absorbing the carbon and producing a starch that can be used as a raw material for bioplastics or binding agents. The waste product is oxygen, clean air.”
Localization is important to the designers, as well. They’re splitting their time between their studio in Zaandam and the AlgaeLab in Arles, and are 3D printing the same products with Dutch seaweed at the former and French algae at the latter. Their goal is for people to be able to grow things locally that they can use to produce items – they don’t want to become a large centralized organization. As a first step, they want to provide all restaurants and catered events in Arles with 3D printed tableware from AlgaeLab.
Currently, their work is on display at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam as part of an exhibition called Change the System, which runs until January 14th. Klarenbeek and Dros have been working on an algae glass made from algae grown in the museum’s pond. When they have enough, they will use it to 3D print a replica of a glass object from the museum.
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