Is the market ready for furniture made from plant based plastics?




Mon to Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun 11am - 5pm

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As a collaborative event Coexistence presents the research and ideas of Roger Batemen, of Sheffield Hallam University. Investigating the use of flax and plant based polymers and asking ‘how can we further increase the uptake of biopolymer usage in the furniture industry?’

Any business that strives to remain competitive, open to new markets and new opportunities has to recognise the challenges and the opportunities of global demands for environmental quality.

It is highly likely that products that are more energy-efficient, which reduce water consumption, decrease pollution and reduce end-of-life waste, will have a clear competitive edge in the global marketplace.

Worldwide, furniture manufacturers that have investigated eco sustainable furniture production have tended to focus on the recyclability of high-energy embodied technological materials rather than on the utilisation of renewably sourced biopolymers that have a wider range of ‘end of life’ options, including composting.

Furthermore, research into ‘sick building syndrome’ has made us aware of the need for new design solutions and material formulations that will lead to improved and ‘healthy’ indoor environments. Previous design work undertaken between Unitec and Scion proved that small desktop items can be made using biopolymer materials formulated in New Zealand.

Leader In Innovation:


Led by Roger Bateman and in collaboration with New Zealand Crown Research Institute SCION, Biofurniture began as an investigating into whether renewably produced biopolymers could be used as a viable alternative to petrochemical based plastics which are currently used in the manufacture of moulded furniture components and pieces.
The research investigated the use of biopolymers in the production of eco-sustainable products in the form of commercially viable office furniture designs such as a Biochair.

To deepen his research since arriving at Sheffield Hallam University in 2010 Bateman has been working with Chesterfield based Netcomposites to develop and exploit a fabric made from flax and the plant based polymer PLA. Bateman has been designing furniture products that utilize the material as structural, lightweight panel components that replace otherwise heavy and less environmentally friendly man-made boards such as mdf or chipboard.

Need for Education

Through discussions Bateman has discovered that manufacturers at large are coming round to the notion of bio products. He found that within the architect and design community there are distinct ‘camps’ of users and specifiers with the largest being those who are interested in bio based products but want them not to look radically different from existing product. Bateman says “this left us with the aim of going forward by ensuring we adhere to certain objectives such as remaining true to the principles of simple, honest and high quality design, educating the user on bioplastics, designing 'super normal' products (thanks to Takashi Okutani, Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa) and to design less but better”

It seems that the question is how can we further increase the uptake of biopolymer usage in the furniture industry? One avenue Bateman is taking is to show exemplar products to the architect/design community in the hope that further pressure will be placed on manufacturers to develop bio based products.

The resulting designs that Bateman is working on are due to be shown during London Design Festival 2013 at Coexistence. Coexistence’s sales & marketing director Daniel Gay has proved to be a great supporter of the Biofurniture project – he believes in the importance of developing new innovative materials and processing solutions that in turn will lead to better environmentally responsible products.

Coexistence specializes in design-led furniture, lighting and accessories

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