Waste water composite (2019)

For my AMS Living Lab project, a kind of team internship, me and several fellow students supported the WASCOM project, short for waste water composites. This is a project that aims to transform waste water material, yes indeed material from the sewage system, into composite material. WASCOM is being developed by a consortium of the TU Delft, Waternet, NPSP, AMS, Chaincraft, and RVO. The project is best explained in the words of the consortium itself:

In a circular society waste streams are efficiently recycled and upcycled. This also holds true for waste streams from a wastewater treatment plant. Two main waste streams from a wastewater treatment plant are cellulose fibers and a class of biopolymers known as alginate-like exopolysaccharides (ALE). It is common practice in the Netherlands to digest or incinerate these streams. However, these streams can also be used to produce a high-value lightweight bio-composite material.

Cellulose and biopolymers like ALE can be combined to yield a lightweight biocomposite material that can be applied in the transport or building sector. Such ALE-cellulose-biocomposites save energy in comparison to standard fossil-based composites for the following two reasons. Firstly, up to 67% less primary energy is consumed in the production process of an ALE-cellulose-biocomposite compared to a composite of glass fibre and polyester. Secondly, energy is saved during the use of a ALE-cellulose-biocomposite as such a composite is up to 25% lighter than a traditional fossil based composites. In a transport application a lower weight translates to a lower fuel consumption and thereby energy saving. Next to being lightweight and stiff, the first test-samples of the ALE-cellulose-composite are also non-flammable.

Our main task was using a Material Driven Design approach (MDD) to help to develop the material further. This meant experimenting with the material by technical characterization, ‘tinkering’ to find interesting opportunities and doing experiential experiments to see how people perceive the material. Furthermore we did theoretical research on possible applications and we designed and made the first two products ever made with the material. We turned sewage waste into a flat pack laptop stand and a biodegradable plant pot