A Material Exploration Project: Polynewton Tile
The project's aim is to explore how waste can be recycled into a raw material of the future, and to use material design as a conveyor of meaning, to help change the way society thinks about lateral waste streams.
Using wastepaper cups, pulled straight from the bins of Nottingham Trent University's Newton and Arkwright buildings as well as waste coffee grounds sourced from the various cafes in the same buildings, combined with a natural binder – dehydrated egg white, the ‘new’ material aims to make the university and the public more curious about the future of consumption.
Before the material exploration started, literature reviews and contextual research was carried out to identify examples of strong material driven projects. The strengths from these projects were then used to establish a set of criteria for developing a 'new’ raw material. The criteria are as follows:
-The project should have a positive reinforcement loop and a rich explanation of material sourcing. This allows for the target audience to be educated on how a particular waste stream has been diverted, which can influence more of the same action thus resulting in a reduction of consumption.
-The project should have relatable material origins, so that the university, its students and employees, and the wider audience of the U.K. can translate the meaning of the origin into their daily lives.
-The project should use innovative production methods, to produce a material application that intrigues the wider audience to think about the future of consumption and how they can make a difference in the present.
The waste used for the base material, paper coffee cups, is a commonly used item that has become a staple of the catering industry; its consumption has become largely habitual in the lives of the broader public – the catering department would order an average of 169,000 paper cups a year (pre-covid), for use in the cafes throughout Nottingham Trent University’s Newton and Arkwright buildings. By sourcing these cups from bins within the buildings, it contributes to this relatable origin and story of the material, as the waste material can be utilised to directly address the excessive consumption habits of the university, its students and employees. Each Polynetwon tile contains roughly 4 – 5 waste paper cups.
The project followed a practice-based, iterative process in order to develop a material that successfully follows the criteria and other project specifications. This iterative process included tests of different ratios of composite content and fabrication variables, as well as testing the effectiveness of release agents or lubricants in the compression moulds.
The material itself has a closed structure with a variable matte finish. The texture is variably smooth. The material has compact hardness properties, comparable to hard and stiff plasterboard, with each tile weighing an average of 140 grams. The properties and finishes of the material are often dependent on the exact ratio of the composite mix, exact force applied, as well as exact thermoset times.
The name for the material, Polynewton, is derived from a number of meanings. ‘Poly’ refers to the biopolymer nature of the egg white content in the material. ‘Newton’ refers to the building where the paper cups and coffee grounds were sourced to use in the composite, while also referring to the 350,000 Newtons of force applied to the material pre-thermoset.
The preparation and fabrication process involved a relatively labour and energy intensive and technical process. This was due to the immediate technical resources of the academic environment. On a larger scale, or with further project development, more labour and energy-efficient processes would be researched.
The waste paper cups would be hand collected from the bins in the Newton-Arkwright buildings. These cups were then dried. Each cup would then be deconstructed in preparation for shredding.
The paper cups were put through a domestic cross-cut shredder, one by one. The shredded paper would then be put in a food processor-blender with water until it turns into paper pulp. The pulp would then be pressed to remove some of the water content. The majority of the water would be reused for the next batch of pulp production.
The paper pulp would be pressed onto baking trays and put in an oven to completely dry the pulp. This would take around 2 hours at 200 degrees Celsius. The dried paper pulp would be put back through the food processor to produce fine paper flakes.
Used coffee grounds were collected from the cafes around the Newton building, and spread out on baking trays which were then slow baked in the oven at 70 degrees Celsius. The dehydrated egg white used as the binder, was sourced externally.
The dried paper pulp, dry coffee grounds and dehydrated egg white were mixed to a specific ratio and poured into a compression mould. With guidance from research on the design, and with assistance from the university’s technicians, the compression mould was fabricated from 6mm rolled steel.
The compression mould was then placed under a hydraulic compressor and compressed at 30-35 kN. After compression, the mould was bolted down to retain the compression of the material mixture. The mould would then be placed in an oven for 2 Hours 30 Minutes at 200 degrees Celcius to thermoset. The mould would then be removed from the oven and left to cool for 1 hour, before opening the mould and removing the Polynewton Tile.
Waste paper cups, Dehydrated egg white, Waste coffee grounds
Fredrick James Owen
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Nottingham Trent University
Fredrick James Owen (2022)