6 min read
© Flower Matter, Designer: Irene Purasachit, Photographer: Soracha Anghin

From cars to architecture, eco-friendly materials are opening up a new dimension of product design. Biodesign also opens up new opportunities for brands to differentiate themselves. We take a look at the three most important trends in biodesign.

Biodesign is paving the way for the next generation of materials, geared towards sustainability, optimum performance and healthier ecosystems. With global demand expected to generate 87 billion dollars by 2026, according to F&F, now is the time for brands across industries to take notice and capitalise on this highly lucrative opportunity.

Trend One: Biopositive Environments

Increased hygiene awareness, coupled with a desire to live more sustainably and healthily is pushing material innovators to consider how biomaterials and biotechnologies can be further entwined with our daily lives and domestic spaces.

Interiors has a particularly exciting opportunity here. Along with their dynamic and often organic aesthetics, biomaterials also provide health and wellbeing benefits. Danish studios Frama and Natural Material Studio have created a collection of experimental textiles for the home that offer unexpected textures and sensory qualities. The collection features Alger, which is made with seaweed extract and dyed with spirulina, while Terracotta is a biofabric formed from protein-based binder extracted from collagen, natural softener and pigment from clay.

© FRAMA, Photographer: PAOLO GALGANI
© FRAMA, Photographer: PAOLO GALGANI

Creatives and brands alike are devising inventive products for the home from experimental and dynamic biomaterials. Algae-based bioplastics, food or agricultural waste composites, bacterial cellulose, mycelium and other organic matter are being transformed into lampshades, tableware, toys and decorative accessories.

Australian studio Other Matter has developed a collection of home-compostable bioplastic tableware from algae polymers and pigments.

Meanwhile in Helsinki, designer Irene Purasachit transforms flower waste into functional material solutions including a paper, a foam and a non-woven sheet material. With no artificial colourants or additives, low-impact alternatives like these show progress towards resourceful and versatile products, which aren’t meant to last forever but will eventually degrade without causing harm.

Consumers obsession with nature is set to impact choices and purchasing habits for the long-term. When it comes to the home, the goal for designers is to create healthy, happy and biopositive environments. Brands should look to collaborate with materials innovators to help accelerate and finesse early-stage biomaterials into market-ready products. The companies that provide investment and support will be recognised for their efforts to make our surroundings healthier and more sustainable. They’ll also benefit from being early adopters with established biodesign networks that will prove valuable as the industry prospers.

© Flower Matter, Designer: Irene Purasachit, Photographer: Soracha Anghin
© Flower Matter, Designer: Irene Purasachit, Photographer: Soracha Anghin
© Flower Matter, Designer: Irene Purasachit, Photographer: Soracha Anghin

Trend Two: Bio-Based Transport

One of the biggest opportunities for biodesign innovation is within automotive. Happily, we’re seeing more carmakers actively developing and investing in high-performance bio-based materials and innovative organic composites with better weight, efficiency and eco-friendly properties.

Two standout examples, include BMW’s i Vision Circular concept, which features a steering wheel rim 3D-printed in a wood powder composite. While, Polestar has developed a biodegradable corn-based resin that could be used to transform its existing flax-based composite into a fully bio-based solution.

British-French academic partnership Flower Project is also finessing flax fibre reinforcements for composite applications across the automotive, sailing and advertising industries. The cost-effective and locally sourced products are an exciting development in this space, boasting biodegradable and recyclable credentials.

For the conscious consumer, petroleum-free and biotech-derived vegan products will hold strong appeal. Dandelion-derived plastics – as being explored by Continental to reinforce rubber tyres and Goodyear’s soya bean oil tyres, made up of 70 percent sustainable materials, including surplus soya bean oil from the animal feed and food industries, are two examples with real potential to move the industry away from petroleum use.

As big brands take a stand to go leather-free, others will have to follow suit. Volvo is embracing an array of alternative premium materials for its interiors, including Piñatex – a material gaining growing interest and cross-industry application, Leap apple leather, and experimental textiles, such as biosynthetic spider silk Microsilk.

As seen at CES 2022, Mercedes-Benz’s Vision EQXX concept car also features a biotech certified-vegan silk-like fabric, derived from spider silk protein – AMSilk Biosteel fibre – used for door pulls.

The global automotive industry is entering a period of wide-reaching and transformative change as environmental regulations tighten. Carmakers looking to fulfil their planet-positive missions should seek alternative materials to those made from petrochemicals, such as bio-based composites derived from natural renewables like flax, hemp or bamboo. It’s also important to use recycled and recyclable content where possible to minimise reliance on raw materials.

© Polestar

Trend Three: Biodesign for Better Buildings

Beyond product, biodesign is also influencing the future of construction and architectural and urban developments.

As part of Dutch Design Week last year, Amsterdam-based company Biobased Creations constructed a full-sized show home, made of 100 different biomaterials to help demonstrate their potential for use in standard houses. The installation featured materials derived from fungi, bacteria, plants, and organic waste streams, including grass insulation panels, hemp insulation, algae plaster, and a self-healing fungal coating for wood. While many are commercially available, others are underused or in need of more support.

Mycelium – the root system of mushrooms – is also burgeoning as a viable architectural element.

Favoured for its biodegradability and insulating, acoustic and fire-retardant properties, the material can be grown to custom sizes and shapes. In the UK, biomanufacturer Biohm has developed an alternative to polystyrene insulation panels using circular principles, while agency Blast Studio has devised a method for 3D printing it into structural building columns.

Such materials offer benefits far beyond the most obvious, from self-healing and climate-reactive surfaces to improved biodiversity in cities. With the looming challenge of climate change, now is the time for architects and designers alike to harness the urgency required to meet net zero targets and make efforts to establish biomaterials as a realistic option for building more efficient, ecological and clean constructions.

© Biobased Creations
© Biobased Creations
© Biobased Creations

Biodesign – Looking to the Future

Now more than ever, design should work positively and in harmony with nature, not against it. Every brand should be rising to the occasion, be it through circular systems, regenerative practices or lower-impact materials, especially as a “nature-positive” economy is forecast to unlock 10.1 billion in business value annually by 2030.

But brands mustn’t be flippant when adopting biomaterials, especially if sustainability is the driving force. Bio-based is not always planet-positive. And consumers are wise to greenwashing and gimmicks. Brands must ensure raw materials are responsibly sourced – consider waste streams – and understand the reasoning behind their choices.

Article by Lauren Chiu, Head of Colour & Materials at trends intelligence experts Stylus

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