This year, the Master in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB) launched the Valldaura Independent Research, a new course to help students with self-led development and research projects related to Sustainable Design.

Material Research was the path taken by four students, who took the opportunity to explore new ways of recuperating waste products from Valldaura Labs and turning them into useable products. The projects range from creating insulation material for architectural applications and brick materials with improved tensile strength, to fabricate tiles with high compression properties and intricately designed products to organise a desk space.

Beyond their applications as functional products, each of the students put emphasis on re-using waste materials directly from Valldaura Labs, creating a loop of waste to creation that is crucial for any study into self-sufficiency. The impact here is two-fold: waste products that had previously been an issue to dispose of, taking up time and resources to process properly, could now be recovered as useful materials preventing the purchase of more external materials and closing even more loops of self-sufficiency.

Andrea Rubio was interested in recovering the high quantity of calcium present in the seashells disposed after eating sea food. By collecting muscle and cockle shells, grinding them and adding quantities of other materials such as agar, sodium alginate, honey and water, Andrea was able to create stable, tile-like materials that had surprisingly strong tensile properties. 

Using the ceramics kiln in the fab lab, Andrea was also able to bake the materials, making them easier to grind into a power and mix into a homogeneous consistency. During the next semester, Andrea is interested in taking her recipes and creating tile elements that could be used in an architectural design.

Anton Hofstadt came to Valldaura Labs with a background in carpentry and construction, but his interest for his Valldaura Independent Research project immediately became to different forms of bio-circular insulation materials. His first task was to create a detailed catalogue of materials that can be recovered from waste and used as thermal insulation: “In my independent Research, I will focus on eco-friendly Insulation and its potential in ecology and economy referring to four different kinds. By using good quality material, you save energy and money, but also preserve and reuse sources. In my research, I will focus on sheep wool, cotton/denim, mycelium and hemp.” 

Since completing this catalogue, Anton has gone on to create a series of prototypes testing mycelium insulation, using a range of waste products as well as different additives that can be sourced locally in the kitchen at Valldaura Labs.

Zani Gichuki came to the MAEBB program with experience in testing and experimenting with the strength of different brick mixtures and recipes. When she arrived to Valldaura Labs, she took the opportunity to continue this line of research: “Earth is one of the oldest and most widely used building materials with approximately 50% of populations in developing countries living in earthen dwellings. Earth is a low-cost, readily available construction material, usually manufactured by local communities in the form of adobe blocks or wattle and daub structures.”  

Zani is interested in enhancing the strength of earth using biomaterials. She chose to use cassava starch and eggshells as additives to clay to determine if they can act as strengthening agents. The resulting block was quite strong. It passed the drop test, which is a common test for earth blocks and indicates that the block would be suitable for construction.

Suwapat Rodprasert has always defined herself as a ‘coffee freak’, obsessed with everything related to coffee. She was looking for a way to convert the large amount of waste coffee grounds into a useful product: “Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, and its popularity is growing all the time, as seen by output nearly doubling in the last three decades. For many years, people have known how to grow, process, roast, and brew coffee.” 

Spent coffee grounds (SCGs) are another key waste product generated by coffee consumption at Valldaura Labs, with the potential to be used for a variety of applications due to their high organic content. Not just only for gardening purposes, SCGs can be exploited as a possible feedstock for developing coffee-based biomaterials through various biotechnological processes.

All four of these students created amazing work with what was formerly considered a waste material, exemplifying the type of ecologically considered and bio-circular work that Valldaura Labs was meant to foster.

Do you also believe that a materially exuberant and ecologically powerful design practice is key for the future? Are you eager to explore material and energy issues across disciplines and scales, taking full advantage of the unique location of Valldaura Self–Sufficient Labs?

Find out more about the Master in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities: