Lexus International has named Agar Plasticity, a project exploring how agar, a gelatinous material obtained from marine algae, can be used as an environmentally friendly packaging material alternative to plastic, as the Grand Prix winner of the 2016 Lexus Design Award.
"This is a bold and ambitious experiment, which aims to address one of the biggest pollution problems of our time," commented Alice Rawsthorn, Lexus Design Award 2016 judge. "The designers have made tremendous progress during the course of the award cycle, particularly in devising a wide range of possible practical applications for the material. Their success in doing so gives us confidence in their ability to tackle the many challenges and complexities they will face in continuing the development of the project."
"Seaweed-derived agar is traditionally consumed as food in Japan, and used in scientific and medical fields worldwide. Sold in a dry state, agar shows porous, feathery structure and is very light despite its volume," stated AMAM, the winning Japanese design group formed in 2015 by Kosuke Araki, Noriaki Maetani and Akira Muraoka. "We have taken notice of these features and have been exploring its possibility as packaging material. Goods are usually shipped wrapped in plastic materials. Once unwrapped, they soon become waste or are collected to be recycled. Considering the raw materials and energy for processing, this situation is undesirable.
"Anticipating effective and sustainable utilisation of natural resources has become more and more indispensable. Believing biodegradable substitutes to plastics are needed, we took this opportunity to tackle this seemingly ignored problem. Agar can be extracted by boiling specific kinds of red algae and then dehydrating the soup. Its resultant state depends on the ways of dehydration, and the types of red algae. For a soft cushioning structure, it's frozen; for stiff film-like state, it's compressed. Because agar is also moldable, it was proposed not only as a cushioning material, but also as packaging material.
"We have also explored the possibility of an agar-derived plastic material. After use, agar products can be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way. It can serve as a material to improve the water-retention property of soil, and should it drift in the sea, it would not harm marine lives."