Skip main navigation

Alternative materials

In this article learn about a variety of alternative materials being used in production, mostly derived from plants.
A photograph of Mycelium fungus networks. the image features strands of fibrous material connected in a network, some strands thicker than others, all coming together to form a mesh.
© Creative Computing Institute

In working to develop more sustainable materials designers have looked to overlooked elements of the environment to many great results, let’s take a look.

Materials such as metals, plastics, cotton, and leather, when produced at such massive scales have catastrophic impacts on the environment. As an alternative, designers are looking to naturally occurring and sustainable alternatives, many of which are plant-based, some of these materials have even been adopted by some of the biggest companies in the world.

Seaweed

Seaweed is a particularly interesting material as some have posited as a saviour crop for a multitude of reasons. Farmed seaweed could be used across a variety of industries from food to biofuel, to textiles and packaging (1). In the development of consumer goods

Mycelium

Much like Seaweed, Mycelium is a material that is being used across industries. Mycelium are “thin root-like fibres from fungi which run underneath the ground, when dried it can be used as a super strong, water, mould and fire resistant building material that can be grown into specific forms”.The material can be either extremely durable, being turned into bricks and construction materials, or be soft and flexible, used in textiles for example (2). It has been adopted by companies such as IKEA and Dell as an alternative to polystyrene due to its ability to compost and some experiments have begun towards its use in electronics (3).

Bamboo and Sugarcane

In an attempt to remove plastic from their packaging Sony has developed a blended material using bamboo and sugarcane, selected for how fast-growing and sustainable they are. These crops are then blended with waste paper to create a strong durable packaging material. Currently, the material is used in every part of the company’s noise-cancelling headphone range but plans are to expand further (4).

Nuatan

Developed by Crafting Plastics Studio, Nuatan, is a bioplastic material, which is made of 100% renewable raw resources, biodegradable, and leaves no microplastics behind as it is 100% compostable. When composted the material degrades into water, CO2 and biomass within 120 days, depending on the conditions. What is particular about Nuatan is that it can be processed by standard plastic industry technologies like injection moulding, 3D printing, extruding, CNC milling, laser cutting, heat pressing, heat blowing, vacuum forming etc (6).

Discussion prompt

While the use of these materials in technologies and electronics is limited at the moment can you envision any ways that some of these materials might be incorporated? Share your ideas with other learners below.

References

  1. Richard Orange, 2022. Sea-farmed supercrop: how seaweed could transform the way we live, The Guardian.
  2. Ilvy Bonnefin, 2017. Emerging Materials: Mycelium Brick, Certified Energy.
  3. Eldy Lazaro, 2019. From Plastic to Biomaterials: Prototyping DIY Electronics with Mycelium, ResearchGate.
  4. Designboom, 2021. sony evolves sustainable packaging from bamboo, sugarcane + recycled paper.
  5. Crafting Plastics Studio, 2022. Nuatan.
© Creative Computing Institute
This article is from the free online

Building a Sustainable Future with Technology

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education