If we can make an environmentally sustainable product by ourselves, how might we start it, and what product can we make? As a ‘Material Technology’ class project, I experimented biomaterials at home. In this case, biomaterial means the materials that come from nature and do not harm the environment after being used.

The goal of this experiments was to find a possibility of making a non-toxic and compostable product on an individual scale. The three materials that I worked with are a starch-based bioplastic, cement, and mycelium.

 

 

 

 

After watched some tutorials, I gathered ingredients for bioplastic experiments. The ingredients were low cost and easy to find in everyday lives.

 

  1. Goal: a sheet of bioplastic
  • Ingredients and proportion: distilled water (8 Tbsp), tapioca starch (8 Tbsp), distilled white vinegar (2 Tsp), vegetable glycerin (2 Tsp)
  • Tools: Pot, Gas Stove, Dish wash liquid, Foil as a drying plate
  • Addictives: Cooking gauze as a structural material
  • Run-time: 7 days
  • Results: It became an almost evenly flat and transparent sheet after 4-5 days. However, I couldn’t separate the foil due to unevenly spread dish washing liquid between bioplastic and foil. I could see a potential of being a waterproof fabric.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Heat liquid bioplastic before it becomes transparent to spread evenly.
    • Do not use foil as a drying plate.
    • Spread enough dish washing liquid.
    • Gauze helps to spread bioplastic evenly without loss on hand or a spatula.

 

2. Goal: a candle holder & aroma stick holder (solid type)
  • Ingredients and proportion: distilled water (12 Tbsp), tapioca starch (12 Tbsp), distilled white vinegar (3 Tsp), vegetable glycerin (3 Tsp)
  • Tools: Pot, Gas Stove, Dish wash liquid, dishes, candle
  • Addictives: Pine branch and leaves for structure and decoration, Cosmetic olive oil for coating the surface
  • Run-time: 10 days
  • Results: I wanted to keep the shape of dishes for bioplastic, but it shrank too much than I expected. Pine branch didn’t work for structure. They kept losing leaves because of dryness. Bioplastic didn’t absorb olive oil. The level of dryness between upper and bottom surfaces was different.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Controlling the solid shape of bioplastic was hard.
    • Oil didn’t work for keeping moisture.
    • It will be better if the mold is breathable.

 

3. Goal: Pouches for a bill and a MetroCard
  • Ingredients and proportion: distilled water (12 Tbsp), tapioca starch (12 Tbsp), distilled white vinegar (3 Tsp), vegetable glycerin (3 Tsp), 1 Green tea bag
  • Tools: Pot, Gas Stove, Dish wash liquid, Cutting mat, Iron
  • Addictives: Cooking gauze, Body Lotion
  • Run-time: 12 days
  • Results: The sheet was cracked, so I put body lotion. I made bioplastic so and moist. Ironing worked well only on an incompletely dried part. The heat didn’t melt it down, but rather roast it. Additional liquid bioplastic worked well as a binding agent.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Once bioplastic was dried, it doesn’t go back to the moist condition.
    • Bioplastic works well for binding.

 

4. Goal: A Fashion Clutch bag
  • Ingredients and proportion: distilled water (72 Tbsp), tapioca starch (64 Tbsp), distilled white vinegar (16 Tsp), vegetable glycerin (16 Tsp)
  • Tools: pot, gas stove, dish wash liquid, cutting mat, sewing machine
  • Addictives: cooking gauze, foil, cotton gauze, threads, magnets, cardstocks
  • Run-time: a month
  • Results: Some dish washing liquid intruded between foil and bioplastic, I had to fill them with glue. Foil surface was weak, so I added one more layer of bioplastic. It became thick so that it was difficult to put in a sewing machine. Bioplastic and foil at folded edges were cracked.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Thicker bioplastic is more vulnerable at folding and sewing.
    • The foil itself is too weak.
    • Bioplastic has a potential to be a fashion bag!

 

 

 

  1. Goal: A mobile phone stand

For the first experiment of cement, I used a Rockite, which is a finer cement power that solidifies in a short time. Rockite is expensive than a normal cement.

  • Ingredients: Rockite, Tap water
  • Tools: a plastic container, a stainless steel spoon, cardboard, paper cutter, tape
  • Results: The cardboard mold was wet, but it didn’t affect the shape of Rockite. The percentage of water made it less solid than a nail. For some reason, it made black substance on the surface, and I guess it is a chemical reaction with stainless steel spoon. It didn’t work well as a phone stand because of a bad design.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Pour Rockite first, and add water later for hardness.
    • It would be better if the mold can be easily separable or disposable.
    • Cement isn’t a proper material for a phone stand due to the scratch issue.

 

2. Goal: A pot stand
  • Ingredients: Rockite, Tap water
  • Tools: a plastic container, a stainless steel spoon, a brownie mold, foil
  • Results: Rockite already started hardening before setting a mold. It wasn’t easy to spread hardened Rockite, and the surface hardened unevenly. The black substance remained at the bottom.

    I used it as a pot stand for more than a month and found that it doesn’t burn or wasn’t broken by a hot pot. The only concern is still a scratch issue.

  • Lesson learned: 
    • Prepare mold first, before pouring Rockite mixture
    • May choose another tool instead of a stainless spoon

 

3. Goal: a tablet stand with wood
  • Ingredients: cement patcher, Tap water
  • Tools: a paper cup, foamboard, a tape, pins, cherry wood plate
  • Results: The cement patcher worked similarly but much heavier and rougher than Rockite. The top surface wasn’t evenly dried because of lack of water.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Foamboard was a good material for mold.
    • A Little water made cement harder and dry fast.

 

4. Goal: a mobile sound amplifier
  • Ingredients: cement patcher, tap water
  • Tools: plastic containers, a balloon, tape
  • Results: There was a gap between a plastic container and foamboard, and water leaked. Moreover, grains were deposited, and it pushed the balloon up. The water-filled balloon wasn’t heavy enough to keep the shape so that it couldn’t make the hollow-shape sound amplifier.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Cement needs the minimum amount of water for formation.
    • Cement was more proper for injection molding-type than a blow-molding design.

 

 

 

 

My class had a chance to have a call with Philip Ross, the founder of MycoWorks. Motivated by Philip, and inspired by the video How to Make a Mycelium Brick‘, I followed the instructions.

  1. Goal: Growing mycelium from mushrooms (1)
  • Ingredients: agar, water, yeast, white mushrooms
  • Tools: a pot, gas stove, stainless steel spoon, glass dishes
  • Run time: two weeks
  • Results: It didn’t change for a long time, and I couldn’t see any white mycelium but green mold.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • Mycelium and mold are different.
    • Mycelium needs very specific conditions.

 

2. Goal: Growing mycelium from mushrooms (2)
  • Ingredients: moldy mushroom from the first experiment, vegetable waste, cat food (chicken can), energy drink, brown sugar, rotten blueberry
  • Tools: a Mason Jar
  • Run time: a month
  • Results: It never changed for more than a month.
  • Lesson learned: 
    • The cat food was too wet.
    • It might be better if the jar is open.
    • Still, mycelium needs particular condition.

 

My mycelium experiments utterly failed. Mycelium requires a particular condition to grow. I would recommend buying a mycelium kit from Ecovative.

 

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