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UK Designers Create Unique Eco-Friendly Building Materials

Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll, a pair of London-based designers, use waste potato peelings to compile eco-friendly building materials. Called Chip[s] Board, it is a sustainable alternative to chipboard, MDF, and other single-use materials.

The name Chip[s] Board is a play on the food and the chip board material. It is biodegradable after use and doesn’t contain toxic chemicals and resins like MDF does.

While MDF is useful, it also damages the environment. The furniture sector in the UK currently throws away 140,000 tonnes of MDF each year because it cannot be recycled.

The designers wanted to combine this problem surrounding material waste with the issue of food waste, which sees one-third of all produced food thrown away. They created a sustainable wood substitute out of waste potato peelings.

Thanks to this unique take on eco-friendly building materials, the Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub has named Rowan Minkley as Britain’s most promising young engineering entrepreneur.

After collecting the material from manufacturers, the duo put the raw potato peel through different processes to produce a binding agent that can be applied to their fibres, which include beer hops, recycled roos, bamboo, or potato skins.

They then form the material by heat-pressing the composite into a sheet board that can be used to make a variety of products, such as building materials and furniture. Once these products have reached the end of their lifespan, they can be made into fertiliser for use at farms that grow potatoes.

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Minkley and Nicoll have not revealed much information about how the material is made, as they have filed a patent for the manufacturing process. However, they can say that the formation and pressing copies the MDF manufacturing processes, except that biodegradable binders derived from waste replace the toxic formaldehyde-based resins.

They explained that as graduates of Kingston University, their approach to prototyping has been ‘thinking through making’.

They confirmed that a lot of trial and error was involved with the original development, mixed with educated guesses, hack chemistry, and an overwhelming determination to make a positive difference in the materials industry.

This drive enabled them to create strong and functional boards with help from Greg Cooper, co-founder, whose biochemistry background helped them to experiment endlessly and refine the product until it was ready for commercial production.

The designers are also developing other eco-friendly building materials, with an emphasis on bioplastics that have inspired a significant amount of interest from fashion industry designers.

Italian designers Pietro Gaeli, Paolo Stefano Gentile, and Simone Caronni were also struck by how much potato peel waste was produced by chip companies. Their response was to create ecological chips packaging made from recycled potato skins instead of paper. It is also fully biodegradable because the packaging is made completely from potato peel, so it can be made into fertiliser for animal food or plants.

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