Humans Invent have already sat down with Suzanne Lee to discuss her BioCouture project, crafting clothes from organic compounds, but designer Jannis Hülsen and biomaterial company JenPolymers have developed a 100% biodegradable material that could challenge the way we build and upholster furniture in the future. He says, “Xylinum is a research project that poses the question: ‘what could future materials and production processes be like?’ The title Xylinum is the name of the bacterium which produces an artificial cellulose material.”
The Berlin based designer is researching the future material and its possibilities to be used as an alternative to current plastics, leathers, woods and other unsustainable materials used in furniture production.
JenPolymers owned a patent on the unique process of growing the organic compound that was originally used in medicine for blood-vessel implants. In the interests of R & D, the company invited Hülsen into their labs to experiment with what the compound could be used for – the results – the first laboratory designed stool.
“The aim of the project was to create a blueprint for new materials and production processes, Hülsen explains. “A stool meets the properties of the material and it has a clearly defined function, while providing a projection surface for the material. Due to its skin-like appearance, the cellulose material shows similarities to materials such as leather or parchment, which have a long tradition in furniture production.
The aim of the project was to create a blueprint for new materials and production processes
“The new way of production in a nutrition liquid, using micro-organisms, places consumer goods in a new context. In contrast to exhaust-producing factories, a new generation of products could be produced in a natural way, compared to a sprouting seed or a growing being. The unique look of each stool supports this characteristic naturally.”
Hülsen wants the research project to motivate people to think about what the material could be used for in the future, and how other bio-materials could be grown and used in design. Its unique characteristics mean the material is as strong as kevlar and steel.
“Xylinum is a bacterium that creates pure cellulose material. It happens in a traditional liquid that is based in plant sugar,” Hülsen explains. “The properties of the cellulose fleece are adjusted to its medical use. So far, applications have been hollow implants for bypass operations or as wound dressings. It is characterised by its three-dimensional nano grid structure, which leads to excellent mechanical properties. Its stability in a wet condition is even comparable to steel or Kevlar.
“Moreover, it is so pure that, if placed inside the human body, it is settled by the body’s own cells. Therefore, it is non-allergic and fully recyclable. Due to the fact, that the material is made for a medical use inside the human body and on wounds, the material binds a lot of water and needs to be dried afterwards. A pivotal question of the project is how to process and use the material. To sum up the many different material samples that originated from the project and to make the material available to the public.”
The stool is immersed in a tank while the bacteria consumes the sugars and builds a cellulose fibre structure around the mould. Amazingly when dried out it forms a material that is a 100 % biodegradable.
“For the production of the stool a wooden frame was filled with mould and then placed in an nutritional liquid that contained only the genetical modified bacterias and plant sugars. The coating process then takes 3-7 days depending on the bacteria that is used. When the coating is thick enough, the stool can then be removed from the liquid. The rest of the nutritional liquid has to be washed out of the cellulose fibres and the stool has to be sterilised. Finally the mould can be removed as the stool simply has to dry.”
The next step would be the entire new design of artificial systems, that will fulfill the dream of not only imitating nature, but improving it
Hülsen believes there is a big future for the use of organic compounds in the world of design – with his hope that the research will inspire others.
“Bacterial-cellulose is a material which is part of a new generations of materials, that are highly specialized, sustainable to produce and biodegradeable. Since the measuring units engineers and biochemist work with become closer, these professions will overlap more and more in the future. The biochemist will be the engineer of the future. Organisms found in nature will be copied and rebuilt for industrial use.
“The next step would be the entire new design of artificial systems, that will fulfill the dream of not only imitating nature, but improving it. Regarding all these promising perspective, this young discipline of science has to be examined critically against the background of possible genetic manipulation of living beings.”