Prowl Studio, a design firm, recently unveiled its groundbreaking mono-material Peel Chair at the Milan design week, showcasing the potential of load-bearing bioplastics. Made from corn-derived PLA and hemp fibers, this innovative prototype challenges the traditional concept of plastic stacking chairs as fast furniture. Here is a detailed report on FURNITURE DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY (FDT).
As part of the annual Alcova exhibition, the Peel Chair had been created using an injection-molding process that eliminates the need for fossil fuels. The bioplastic composite used in its production had been developed by M4 Factory, a materials innovation start-up, and is fully industrially compostable at the end of its lifespan, demonstrating the sustainable and circular design approach of Prowl Studio.
According to Lauryn Menard, Co-founder, Prowl Studio, conventional plastics like polypropylene, which are commonly used in plastic stacking chairs, can take up to 450 years to decompose. In contrast, their hemp-based PLA used in the Peel Chair can break down in just six months under controlled conditions. This reportedly makes Peel Chair the first injection-molded chair that is compostable. Even the cushions attached to the seat and backrest are made from an innovative hemp-based foam that can be composted at home and reportedly decomposes at the same rate as an orange peel.
The Peel Chair utilizes a cutting-edge composite developed by M4 Factory. This composite combines polylactic acid (PLA), a commonly used bioplastic, with the coarse hurd fibers that are typically discarded as waste during hemp processing. This unique blend of materials in the Peel Chair allows for both load-bearing functionality and sustainability, thus setting it apart from other designs in the market. The incorporation of hemp fibers in the design results in a reduction of plastic usage, thereby making the chair lighter and also increasing its strength by up to 90 per cent. The ready availability and sustainable attributes of hemp make it an ideal choice for enhancing the performance and eco-friendliness of the chair design.
By integrating the structural support directly into the bioplastic, instead of using a separate load-bearing frame, the Peel Chair can be easily and efficiently mass-produced using conventional injection-molding machinery, similar to petroleum-based chairs. This approach avoids the need for new technology and utilizes existing systems, making it a practical and cost-effective solution, as explained by Baillie Mishler, co-founder of Prowl Studio. Once the initial setup is complete, the production process can be carried out at a low cost, making it an inclusive and democratic way of manufacturing.
The Peel Chair’s foam cushions, made from molded hemp fibers with a leather-like algae-based coating developed by Veratate, can naturally break down in the soil in approximately six months without the need for an industrial composter. Similarly, the chair’s frame is designed to biodegrade in a similar timeframe when placed in an industrial composting facility with carefully controlled conditions. However, the availability of such composting facilities is limited, and the practice of composting bioplastics is not yet widespread.
The Peel Chair project is part of an ongoing partnership between Prowl Studio and M4 Factory, with the goal of exploring sustainable mass production of furniture by taking responsibility for the entire product lifecycle, from material chemistry to production.
Image credit: Dezeen
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