Fazmina Imamudeen explores our wacky and wonderful world

ECO FURNITURE As concerns about the environmental impact of traditional furniture material such as wood, plastic and metal grow, innovative researchers and businesses are pioneering exciting alternatives.

Founder and CEO of Oslo-based Agropene Celine Sandberg is championing seaweed, a fast-growing renewable resource, to create strong and lightweight furniture. This reduces reliance on traditional materials and offers unique design possibilities too.

Meanwhile, Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo Dr. Christian Euler is transforming coffee bean shells, which is a waste product from the caffeine sector, into durable and aesthetically pleasing furniture.

And the lead of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment’s (HBBE) Living Textiles Research Group Dr. Jane Scott is exploring mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, as furniture material. Its biodegradability and ‘compostability’ make it environmentally-friendly while the ability to be grown into various shapes opens avenues for innovative design.

This shift to sustainable furniture will have a significant impact on the environment. By utilising recycled and biodegradable materials, furniture makers can minimise their environmental footprint and create sustainable products.

ENZYME CUTTER In 2010, postdoctoral researcher Dr. Sintawee Sulaiman stumbled upon an enzyme in fallen leaves that is capable of degrading plastic. Today, scientists such as Prof. Alain Marty have taken this discovery a step further.

Through bioengineering, they have created a potent enzyme called ‘molecular scissors’ that dismantles PET plastic and repurposes its components into valuable raw materials.

Carbios, an enterprise founded by Marty, stands at the forefront of this bio revolution. Its technologically advanced facility in France transcends conventional recycling. Carbios harnesses the power of enzymatic degradation to transform discarded polyester rich clothing and plastic bottles into high quality feedstock pellets.

The process readily accepts mixed plastics and coloured materials, due to its exceptional adaptability and real world practicality.

By 2025, Carbios envisions a dramatic increase in capacity and aims to recycle a staggering 50,000 tons of PET waste annually, which is equal to 300 million T-shirts or two billion bottles. This ambitious target represents a significant leap in tackling the global plastic waste crisis.

However, cost remains a critical challenge. Currently, enzyme recycled ‘new plastic’ carries a premium compared to its virgin counterpart. Nevertheless, Carbios remains optimistic. Increased access to recycled materials and potential carbon taxes are expected to narrow the cost gap, and make the process more competitive.

BAMBOO APPEAL Green School Bali boasts a majestic architectural marvel called The Arc, which is crafted from 12 tonnes of bamboo. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, it also represents a pivotal shift to a more sustainable future for construction.

As a building material that actively mitigates climate change by sequestering carbon, bamboo replenishes itself at an astounding rate and thrives in degraded land with minimal water requirements. However, widespread adoption faces challenges. Unfamiliarity and a lack of standardised testing methods raise concerns, particularly in the West.

Initiatives such as the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization (INBAR) are actively establishing standards while businesses including BamCore and BambooLogic are bridging the knowledge gap. BamCore’s panelised framing systems, already utilised in five storey buildings, demonstrate bamboo’s structural potential.

BambooLogic promotes large-scale European plantations that not only restore degraded soil but also support local communities.

As the world grapples with climate change, bamboo is a viable solution that offers a sustainable and versatile alternative to traditional building materials.

FLEXIBLE CHIPS Pragmatic Semiconductor, the UK’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, is transforming its vast space into a sophisticated hub that produces flexible silicon chips.

This unorthodox approach defies the industry standard by offering bendable chips for applications such as wearable tech, garment authentication and even parcel tracking. Compared to the multi-billion dollar multi-year investments required for traditional silicon fabs, Pragmatic’s method boasts faster and cheaper production timelines.

But the global chip landscape is far from homogenous.

While flexible chips present intriguing possibilities, more advanced applications like powering phones, computers and other cutting-edge tech still rely on established silicon giants such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC).

Though governments worldwide are stepping up ambitious plans to bolster domestic chip production, challenges remain. TSMC’s Arizona project faces a skilled worker shortage while concerns exist about potential duplication and in­efficiency across newly planned facilities.

However, Pragmatic Semiconductor CEO David Moore is optimistic about a diversified future. He emphasises the need for alternative supplies in large volumes to meet the projected exponential growth in demand for chips across the globe.