Design

Student’s ‘green’ material attracts attention from building industry

An environmentally friendly building material made from seaweed, and developed by a Canterbury University student, could reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry.

Bachelor of Product Design student, Andy (Minhong) Park, created the building material, a biocomposite wall panel made from algae – commonly known as seaweed – as part of his final year project.

Plasterboard, originally made from traditional gypsum-board, is used by the building industry – an industry responsible for 20 percent of New Zealand’s carbon emissions.

“As the sector faces the challenge of reducing carbon emissions but building more houses, and with plasterboard used in almost every home, seaweed plasterboard offers a viable green alternative,” Park says.

Plasterboard made out of seaweed.

With a glossy marble surface and green, red or brown in colour depending on the type of algae used, the plasterboard has many environmental benefits for both the building and marine agriculture industry.

Read more: Walking underwater: meet the engineer behind some of the world’s most famous submerged buildings

Park says because the plasterboard is made from seaweed, it can contribute to warmer, drier and safer homes, as it has the ability to absorb and release moisture.

“Seaweed has been proved to reduce ignition risks, increase flame retardancy and promote auto-extinguishing behaviour of seaweed-based composite systems because it contains boron, a natural fire retardant,” he adds.

The 21-year-old international student from South Korea, says the plasterboard is expected to require significantly less energy to manufacture, further reducing its environmental impact.

Any damaged or deformed plasterboard can be ground up and be reused as a fertiliser. Because the plasterboard is made from seaweed, a rare material, it is considered an environmentally friendly approach to fireproof plasterboard.

Andy Park.

Not only environmentally friendly, the cultivation of the seaweed to create the plasterboard is sustainable and easy, as it grows 0.5 metres daily and is capable of absorbing 173 million metric tonnes of carbon every year.

“It’s easy to cultivate and can be farmed offshore, not competing for farmable land with other bio-based materials, making it an attractive, low-cost farming commodity.

“Large wall-panel manufacturers could employ seaweed farming as a carbon offset by growing it,” he adds.

Park’s ‘green’ alternative also won him the UC Innovation Jumpstart Greatest Commercial Potential Award and a prize of $20,000 from the University of Canterbury.

The plasterboard is now under a development process to make final improvements, and it is expected to be commonly used in 2023. 

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Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email bernadette.basagre@scg.net.nz

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