Robotically Printed Seaweed As A Biomaterial Within Architecture And Design

Ilaena Mariam Napier Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC)

This research aims to develop and understand kelp as a biocomposite material within the built environment. The research is motivated by current issues of global warming, the problem of material waste, and the need to create more sustainable manufacturing processes. The use of seaweed brings attention to organic, underutilized resources that are in abundance in the world and should be used to create more renewable materials. Seaweed does not require land, fresh water or fertilizer, only sunlight and nutrients within the ocean. In ideal conditions kelp grows extremely fast, at a rate of almost 30 times faster than land plants. Seaweed-based bioplastics can alleviate the effects of global warming through its production as it encompasses a carbon sink, as well as create an alternative material system from an organic resource, creating a closed loop. The use of renewable bio-based materials for large-scale applications within the built environment is still not widely acknowledged or accepted despite an urgent need for alternatives to non-renewable materials as natural resources are depleting. Research done at MIT’s Mediated Matter Group on water-based robotic fabrication using natural polymers, sheds new light on this alternative construction approach. This research focuses on the development of a biocomposite material made from a core ingredient extracted from brown seaweed, sodium alginate. This water-based recipe made only from renewable and non-toxic materials, combines sodium alginate powder and cellulose powder as the biopolymers, glycerin as the plasticizer, and kelp powder as an additive. Once dried, the outcome material creates unique aesthetic qualities that can be compared to leather and can be incorporated as a membrane or skin within the built environment. By creating a biodegradable, biocomposite material, one can determine new ways to design and fabricate it. A set of methodical experiments were conducted and recorded, with the aim of creating a bioplastic material with adaptable material properties based on strength, translucency and flexibility. The shrinkage due to water content as well as viscosity of the material steered the progression of the research towards a specific type of manufacturing process. A progression of techniques range from pouring the material into frames to 3D extrusion printing the material into flat sheets. The change in production method allows for the ability to control the shape of the material being printed as well as the deposition of material across the surface area. This is beneficial in order to reduce the shrinkage and deformation, however each print remains organic and unique. A further incorporation of a KUKA robotic arm gave the opportunity to show how the material has the ability to be scaled. By creating, designing and fabricating using renewable and biocompatible polymers, one is able to design an architectural strategy that would not contribute to carbon emissions but have the ability to create a natural resource cycle. Therefore, the material can decay and return to the earth, for the purpose of remediating soils and fueling new growth. This type of additive manufacturing approach allows for adaptability within the fabrication process and eliminates the need of huge energy consumption, material waste and the use of molds.

Keywords: Sdg12, Sdg13, Sdg14, Seaweed Biocomposite Material, Robotic Additive Manufacturing, Material-Informed Design, Water-Based Fabrication, Kelp Bioplastic, Sodium Alginate, Material Ecology

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