Toxic slag heaps, muck, slime and sediments; ash from power plants and volcanoes; broken glass and ceramics. Every year, we produce several million tons of such waste. In the third series of exhibitions about the search for new materials, we reach for the dirty and the hazardous. Poisonous and mordant.
Awareness of climate change is becoming increasingly widespread and the news we are receiving about it is increasingly worrisome. Natural resources are running out, the exhaust fumes emitted into the atmosphere have shrouded the world in grey fog; temperatures are rising, forests are burning, rivers are drying up, glaciers are melting.
When we were planning this exhibition, it didn't occur to us that before it was realized, the world would grind to a halt because of a virus. We stopped flying, driving, producing, and the natural environment seemed to breathe again. Reportedly, the smog over China has disappeared; supposedly, long-unseen animal species have reappeared in the purified waters. It is hard to separate truth from fiction, but it is easy to believe that the environment is defending itself from our short-sighted invasion. It seems more than ever that the sum of small gestures can bring about a great change.
Designers operating on a small scale often have greater foresight than politicians and economists. As they explore the world around them, they see the consequences of pollution, wastage and exploitation of natural resources. They propose that the by-products of production and extraction become resources that we can use, not only to reduce the need for new raw materials, but also to neutralise their harmful effects. The benefit would be twofold.
In the projects displayed, the ashes from the heating industry have been converted into construction materials, sustainable and aesthetic. Soils contaminated with metals gave colour to tableware and ceramic tiles. Glass and ceramic waste, so far considered unrecyclable, have been used in the production of new vessels. In each case, the principle is the same. We do not extract new raw materials, but use what we would throw away. In each case, the harmful materials are neutralised. In each case, the resulting objects are very aesthetic. And although their source is the industrial exploitation of resources, harmful and dirty materials in the hands of designers gain the refined beauty of crafted objects or mass-produced yet unique items. Natural ones.
However, if we think that the future will bring a deceleration, a return to the work of hands, cooperatives and the exchange of goods, let us pay attention to how little is said in these projects about creation, and how much about research and experimentation. How much attention these designers had to devote to processes and materials in order to reverse the effects of carelessness over many previous generations.
flower pots and ceramic tiles
Ashka is a material created from the combination of fly ash from the Jaworzno III Power Plant and ceramic clay. The material consists of 70% waste and is suitable for the production of floor tiles or flower pots.
Located in many power plants, fluidised bed boilers are specially designed to burn low-calorific hard coal, lignite, sludge, peat, shale, residues from oil processing, municipal waste and biomass. As a result of this process, a lot of fly ash is produced which is difficult to utilise.
Mateusz Mioduszewski created a material that consists of 70% ash from such boilers and various types of clay. The handmade mass, after firing, has a beige-grey colour, its shade dependent on the colour of the clay and the chemical composition of the ash used. The process involved examining the possibility of combining ash with clay, the changing properties of the resulting material, as well as its reaction to the firing temperature. The technical parameters of the raw material were examined at the Faculty of Material Science and Engineering at the Silesian University of Technology.
The developed material was used to create a collection of ceramic tiles and flower pots. The developed mixture is hygroscopic; therefore, the pots made of it keep moisture longer. Tiles are available in two versions – glazed and unglazed. The glazed ones can also be used in rooms with higher humidity.
Attention! Some coal-fired power plants are also fuelled by low-calorific mud, peat, shale, oil processing residues, municipal waste and biomass.
Volcanic lava and ash were used to produce a collection of ceramic tiles that can be used for floors, walls and worktops. The aesthetic richness of the collection is the result of the unpredictability and diversity of the raw material.
Volcanic material is commonly available in many parts of the world, but it is heterogeneous and unpredictable, so it is more often regarded as dispensable matter rather than a natural resource. Lava and ash are rich in metal oxides, making it difficult to predict how they might behave during processing.
Studio Formafantasma and Dzak, a company that produces natural and sustainable building materials, have successfully tested this natural but little-known raw material. The designers have exploited the potential of available, natural and self-renewable materials of volcanic origin that are both durable and resistant to external factors. Testing physical properties, such as hardness, brittleness, abrasiveness and melting behaviour, allowed them to obtain the substance from which the ceramic tile collection was made.
The tiles are available in two sizes and four shades of volcanic glaze. Although their production is fully controlled, the individual pieces have an uneven appearance due to differences in weight and density. Despite their uniform shape, they retain the unpredictability and aesthetic richness of the original material.
Attention! Lava and ash are rich in metal oxides, which makes it difficult to predict how they might behave during processing.
Fly ash, a by-product of power plant operations, has been processed into a geopolymer, a new construction material. The substance contains 80% of the ash released during coal combustion
The whole world is focused on finding renewable energy sources that will be less damaging to the environment in comparison to coal which, when combusted at a high temperature, pollutes the environment with fly ash. As of yet, this is still in the future. Coal remains the primary and cheapest source of thermal energy. Every year, the heat and power industry emits more than 500 million tonnes of ash into the environment. This is likely to continue over the next few decades.
From Ash is a geopolymer made from the residue of coal combustion, neutralised with alkaline sodium and silicon salts. The new material is durable and resistant like concrete yet much lighter. Compared to Portland cement, consisting of 40% ash, the geopolymer contains as much as 80% of it, and its production is simpler and more environmentally neutral.
Tomass Misse estimates that if thermal power plants were to transfer their ash to nearby geopolymer plants, there would be enough of this new construction material to build two houses per day. Such a solution would make it possible to manage the pollution caused by the CHP plants and meet the material needs of a region.
Attention! Every year, the heat and power industry emits more than 500 million tonnes of ash into the environment.
Ground glass, ceramics, factory sludge and other waste have been combined into a ceramic mass, from which simple, strong and durable tableware is made. The dishes are food and dishwasher safe and microwave resistant.
In the UK alone, the production and processing of ceramics, glass and stone generates several million tonnes of waste per year. It is reused, for example, for paving roads. Hence, the precious material becomes near-worthless filler. At the same time, the raw materials are still being newly extracted that not only has a negative impact on the environment, but also generates more waste. The extraction of 1 tonne of white ceramic clay is accompanied by 9 tonnes of waste.
The Granby Workshop has developed a ceramic mass 100% produced from locally sourced, secondary raw materials. The new material includes clay recovered from waste water, broken tableware and building ceramics, glass crushed into fine powder, dust from shale, granite and marble extraction, and ground bricks from demolished stoves and chimneys. The project is the result of a series of research studies, carried out in cooperation with specialist waste management companies, who have helped to identify the main sources of waste and pollution and to select what can be used for ceramics production.
The dishes have typical shapes and unique, intricate colours. They are glazed on the inside where they come into contact with food and remain raw on the outside.
Attention! In the UK alone, the production and processing of ceramics, glass and stone generates 1 million tonnes of waste per year.
Ignorance is Bliss
ceramic tiles and tableware
A collection of porcelain tableware and ceramic tiles has been dyed with toxic metals that pollute the soil in industrial areas. The greater the contamination of the raw material, the more vivid and impressive the colours of the glaze become.
Metals are important and non-renewable natural resources. Inefficient management of these resources causes depletion of deposits and environmental pollution. Just one soil remediation plant in the Netherlands collects more than 30 thousand tonnes of heavy metals a year, while a company that supplies drinking water to one city produces around 120 tonnes of iron within the same period.
Agne Kucerenkaite proposes using these impurities to dye glazes that are used in ceramics. Traditionally produced glazes owe their colours to the admixtures of metals that are extracted from natural deposits. However, metal deposits accumulated during soil and water treatment can successfully replace these substances. Various types of treatment plants recover raw materials of the same composition, and identical chemical and visual properties. The method used by the designer is not only a proposal for disposal, but also for chemical neutralisation of poisonous pollutants, which after burning at high temperature, are retained in the glaze and become safe to use.
Tableware in various colours designed by the artist have been dyed with residues from water and soil treatment, and zinc production. The pigments were mixed with porcelain clay, glaze and glass. The same substances can also be used to dye fabrics.
Attention! A company supplying drinking water to one city produces around 120 tonnes of iron within one year.
Half the production of ceramic plants ends up as cullet because it is not suitable for sale due to flaws and damage. Ground porcelain has been mixed with kaolin clay and used to produce new tableware.
The widely desired whiteness and translucence of porcelain are characteristics that depend on the raw material the product is made from. The most sophisticated is kaolin clay extracted in the mountains around Jingdezhen, China. Unfortunately, in recent decades, as a result of environmental pollution, the kaolin deposits have become increasingly grey, losing their natural whiteness.
Lotte Douwes has used production waste to create an environmentally friendly alternative to white kaolin. The porcelain cullet, milled into powder, was processed into a material with aesthetic and physical characteristics similar to kaolin clay. Its use in the production of tableware limits the exploitation of clay deposits, while at the same time utilizing previously unused waste from porcelain production.
The new material has been used for dinnerware. The spilled remains from casting the dishes are processed into jewellery and coasters. The rest goes back into circulation, is milled again and mixed with the mass. In this way, the cycle of production is maintained and its impact on the environment is reduced to its minimum.
Attention! In recent decades, as a result of environmental pollution, deposits of kaolin clay, famous for its whiteness and used for the production of porcelain, are becoming increasingly grey.
Red mud contaminated with iron oxide is a by-product of aluminium mining. The designers developed a method for converting this material into ceramic clay and used it to make tableware.
The production for 1 tonne of aluminium produces more than 2 tonnes of mud contaminated with iron oxide that gives it its characteristic red colour. Each year, around 150 million tonnes of this waste are produced worldwide. The red mud is treated as chemical contamination that cannot be used or neutralised.
The collection of dishes by the studio Thus That shows that this troublesome waste can be a valuable resource. The project is more a manifesto than an attempt to solve the problem because the scale of the phenomenon is too big to be resolved by producing vases or plates. The process of producing ceramic dishes demands attention, patience and precision, which is the opposite of the extraction process that usually lacks reflection and attention. The continual pursuit of improving production efficiency and profits contributes to the disastrous state of the environment.
In order to stop this process, it is necessary to change the method to post-extractive waste. If entrepreneurs and scientists were to engage in the recovery of raw materials, within the ceramics industry for example, the exploitation of natural resources and the pollution caused by this activity would be significantly reduced.
Attention! Every year, around 150 million tonnes of mud contaminated with iron oxide are produced worldwide.
This Is Copper
Slag, a by-product of the copper mining process, was used by the designers to create a geopolymer with a resistance similar to that of cement and a carbon footprint that is up to 80% lower.
Although we don't see it, copper is common in everyday life. Formerly used due to its plasticity and antiseptic properties, copper is widely used in industry today. One wind turbine contains up to 5 tonnes of copper, and 10 tonnes of this metal are needed per 1 kilometre of high-speed railway. Modern copper mining, processing and recycling involves the production of waste, particularly many million tonnes of slag, used in building and road construction. However, slag is often contaminated with sulphur and phosphorus compounds which are poisonous, and undergo chemical reactions.
Geopolymerisation is a technology that uses popular inorganic compounds such as gravel to produce eco-friendly alternatives to cement. The process developed by the Thus That studio creates a material with a resistance comparable to standard cement and a carbon footprint that is up to 80% lower.
During the research carried out with scientists from the Catholic University of Leuven, the designers experimented with various processes and techniques, examining the properties of the material obtained from slag. The individual parts of the Molten chair are joined together by molten copper and the Sparkly Black chair was cast directly in a heap of coarse slag that served as a mould. The process was inspired by traditional sand casting technique.
Attention! One wind turbine contains up to 5 tonnes of copper, and 10 tonnes of this metal is needed per 1 kilometre of high-speed railway.