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Tjeerd Veenhoven is an industrial designer of a special kind. In his hands, materials change their shape like they do in the hands of an alchemist. He has made shoes from palm leaves, woven fabric from fungus and, being Dutch, he has extracted colour pigments for industrial use from tulips.
With his project 'Growing textile fibre under water', Veenhoven is making use of a natural resource that his home country, the Netherlands, has plenty of: water. Within this resource, he discovered that algae, specifically a variety by the name of Cladophora, are rich in cellulose. June to August were the perfect months for harvesting these algae. Fibre2Fashion spoke to him about his goals, the industrial application of his algae-material and the possible effect on the environment he could have with it.
What is the goal of your project?
Our goal is to develop an alternative resource of cellulose to contribute to textile production and simultaneously offer a solution for the regions where algae are a pest and destroying local flora, fauna and livelihoods. In my opinion, algae should be perceived as a (even more) valuable commodity for the future.
What is your background?
My background is in product design, and I have had my own design studio now for over 15 years where I and my small team are dedicated to implementing design-thinking in existing and new value chains in a wide variety of markets.
How did you get the idea of growing textile fibres under water?
The question of 'What's in your own backyard' has been a driving theme for our material innovations for many years, and our other projects such as Palmleather and Bio-Laminates are successful examples of this.
Algae caught my eye many years ago, and I was stunned by their growth rate and how much material is around. Obviously, not all algae are suitable for our current project, but to me it was clear that this material in my own backyard must be utilised. After the initial explorations, I was amazed by how little affinity we have with these green slimy organisms, while there is so much of it.
Which steps have you taken so far in this project?
After an extensive literature study, my conclusion was that the algae are specifically suitable for cellulose extraction. Even though algae are suitable for many things, the application to fabrics is, in my opinion, a good value increase and essential to solve some huge sustainability challenges in the fashion value chain.
The literature study resulted in a roadmap for development, which got me the Global Change Award. Currently, we are doing more research on what the ideal conditions are for growth of the specific algae species, and how we can optimise the cellulose extraction through a circular separation system.
On the total opposite of the value chain, we are also looking at what type of applications this filament can be used in, what type of clothing, or perhaps also in carpets or upholstery. Even though fashion is the big goal, it of course depends on the final wearability and the price.
What are the characteristics of the fibre you are trying to grow?
Well, obviously this depends on those future results. But I hope it will resemble a cotton-type material. Most likely, however, it will feel and behave like hemp at first.
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