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Student Turns Plant Waste into Pigments

Friday, September 13, 2019

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A graduate student in the Innovation Design Engineering program—which is jointly offered by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art—has set out to bring pigments back to the basics: plants.

Nicole Stjernswärd recently introduced KAIKU Living Color, a machine that converts plant waste into pigments.

“Historically color came from plants and minerals, but with the onset of industrialization, cheap petrochemical colors became the norm, at huge environmental cost,” Stjernswärd says on her website.  

“To avoid further ecological devastation, KAIKU uses plant waste to create natural powder pigments. Many plants & fruits we eat every day, such as avocados, onions and oranges, have valuable colors within their skins and peels. Normally these are left to rot in landfills, but KAIKU transforms this waste into a high value resource.”

The plant waste is first boiled to collect dye, which is then added to the machine’s reservoirs.

The machine uses air pressure and a water pump to extract the dye from the reservoirs into an atomizing chamber, which separates the liquid from solid.

The liquid becomes mist that sprays above 100 C, which causes it to vaporize, and the pigmented powder is left behind and collected into containers.

Stjernswärd says that the pigments can be used for paints, inks and textiles.

“The project uses existing, old knowledge that people might have forgotten about, incorporating new technologies,” she said, noting that she is exploring how she can continue with the project after graduation.


Tagged categories: Color + Design; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Pigments; Powder Coatings; Research and development

Comment from Austin Quinn, (9/12/2019, 4:51 PM)

very cute. From a research point of view I would call this low hanging fruit. Plants are expensive to grow, and how many avocados do I need to make a 400 gallon batch of avocado green paint? organic pigments are generally not that stable. This doesn't seem viable or cost effective. Research institutions should really aim higher.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (9/27/2019, 8:20 AM)

Austin - the idea is to use the waste which already exists, not the whole avocado. This process would be something to incorporate at a guacamole factory or orange juicing facility. Use the vast amount of waste skins, seeds, etc. which are piling up anyway.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (9/27/2019, 11:31 AM)

Everything old is new again. A return to the "old way" of generating pigments with a process that could potentially be added to an existing system seems to take a page out of co-generation, methane recovery from landfills, and various other waste product utilization processes. Hopefully the limitations associated with the organic pigments can be overcome in the process that makes use of them, but other than that caveat, I say go for it.

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