Seaweed Ten Ways
Words by Ma-tt-er
We often describe the way we work with materials in the same way that a chef would work with one main ingredient to create a multitude of dishes. Take eggs for example. Eggs can be boiled, fried, poached, baked, scrambled or made into an omelette. Designing and making materials have a very similar principle. Seaweed, a complex and versatile organism is one of those ingredients that has become much more than an edible aquatic vegetable. Over the course of human history, it has been appropriated and transformed into a variety of outputs such as fuel, food, printing ink, and a petroleum plastic alternative to name a few.
You’re probably wondering why seaweed? Well, since seaweed first emerged—according to scientific estimates—around 3.5 billion years ago, it has flourished to become, according to some, the most important organism on earth. These single- celled marine plants are life givers. They produce between 75–80% of the world’s oxygen and supply the energy required to support a diverse coastal marine life.
There are more than 1500 species of green, 200 species of brown and over 7000 species of red sea- weed. Each variety has different properties and attributes which enables us to utilise this abundant organism in numerous ways. Here we explore 10 examples of how that slimy plant you used to throw at your siblings on holiday has been used to brilliant effect.
Plastics or Fast-Moving Consumer Good (FMCG): Ari Jónsson’s single- use biodegradable water bottle made entirely from seaweed and algae could help eliminate the need for petroleum and single-use plastics.
Food: Traditionally seaweed is eaten everywhere in countries from Ireland to Japan as part of their daily diet. Now, SPACE10 IKEA’s innovation laboratory is imagining a future where seaweed and algae might replace meat with its high protein and nutritional values—a potential replacement for the infamous IKEA meatball.
Hanan Alkouh, a recent graduate from the Material Futures master’s programme at Central Saint Martin’s, has addressed what we could be eating in a post-meat world by creating a collection of “Sea- Meat”. Alkouh discovered that when dulse—an edible variety of seaweed— is deep-fried it tastes like bacon. It’s a revelation that could provide one alternative to the harmful effects of the meat farming industry often cited as a primary factor in rising levels of carbon dioxide.
Textiles: One of the largest polluting industries on the planet is looking at biomaterials such as seaweed as a potential fibre and yarn. As this renewable organism lives within water it doesn’t need any extra resources to grow, especially considering that water is 70 per cent of our planet. Seaweed fibre is now being manufactured at an industrial scale.
Colour: Designer Nienke Hoogvliet has discovered that many varieties of seaweed can be applied as a natural dye onto protein-based fibres and fabrics cutting down the need for chemical dyeing which damages water systems and soil, therefore, discouraging any fruitful vegetation to occur or clean water supplies to exist.
Architecture: Seaweed is and has been used as a form of thatching and insulation. A very traditional form that has existed in Denmark for many generations and is now being interpreted in more contemporary ways by architectural practices.
Beauty: Brands such as Haeckels and Creme De La Mer have been using seaweed as the main ingredient for multiple beauty-related products. Boasting of antioxidants, anti-bacterial properties as well as anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory benefits, it’s packed with amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
Ink: Design studio Blond and Bieber have been experimenting with seaweed as an ink for printing with onto paper and fabrics. Reducing the need for oil-based inks and damaging water streams by using a natural organism.
Energy: A potential biofuel that could be the answer to eliminating the use of fossil fuels and petroleum. In 2013, Arup unveiled the first building to be powered by algae without using electricity or gas.
Furniture: Due to its inherent gelatinous nature, seaweed can be used as a binding agent as well as a solid material that can be applied to furniture products that become naturally biodegradable such as lamps, tables, chairs and so on. Designers experimenting with this process include Adam Davies, Jonas Edvard and Julia Lohmann.
Smart device: Silk Leaf by Julian Melchiorri uses silk and seaweed to create a device that has the ability to power the home using photosynthesis.