Plastics Become Renewable

Plastics Become Renewable

Continuing our look at the of bio-composites – that is, composites that use biologically-derived resin and/or reinforcement – we turn to a 2009 project commissioned by the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The assignment, according to architect 3XN, was “to design a pavilion demonstrating cutting edge possibilities with sustainable and intelligent materials.” And they went all out.

Entitled “Learning From Natur,” the pavilion’s single, continuous shape is formed from a composite much like fiberglass or carbon fiber composites, except that both the resin and fiber reinforcement are biologically-based instead of mineral-based.  They are all renewable resources.  The resin made from soybean oil and cornstarch. It was chosen because, among other things, it can eventually decompose and return to the biological cycle after use. It is reinforced with flax fibers instead of glass or carbon fiber. The typical foam core has been replaced with a cork core.

The entire shape is coated with nano-particles that give it self-cleaning properties. The surface is hydrophilic, so rainwater gets under dirt and sloughs it off. The surface is also coated with photo-catalytic material that scrubs pollutants out of the air in the immediate vicinity of the pavilion.

The top surface incorporates 1mm-thick flexible solar cells. There are also piezo-electric materials in the floor that generate tiny bits of current from the weight of visitors who step on them. The combined electric output of these generators is enough to power the LED lights that illuminate the pavilion, so the structure is self sustaining in terms of energy consumption.

It also incorporates phase-changing materials, which tend to even out the temperature of the pavilion-structure when the ambient temperature rises or falls. (Of all the various technologies incorporated into this project, the phase-change is probably the most purely demonstrational. If this were an enclosed structure, the phase change material or some other form of thermal-mass material could have a real effect on interior temperature, but in this configuration, it’s more of a stunt than a real performance benefit.)

It was produced on a 4-month schedule, and was a collaborative effort by 20 different companies. Bio-resin was produced by Ashland Inc., and fiber reinforcement sourced from Libeco-Lagae, a Belgian linen company that produces both bed linens and industrial flax fibers.  Engineering of the composite structure was done by David Kendall, Optima Projects Ltd.

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