Posted Tuesday 6 February 2018
Two Kingston University graduates have created an environmentally friendly, sustainable and biodegradable alternative to MDF, produced from potato peelings. Graphic design graduates Rob Nicol and Rowan Minkley are the team behind Chip[s] Board - a potato-based product turning food waste material from restaurants into a robust ready-to-use chipboard-like sheet.
The environmentally friendly product is strong enough to construct temporary structures designed to last more than a month. "We have some samples that are over a year old now - It lasts as a material without degrading," Rowan explained. "We could build a product with a lifespan of three to five years or provide the stands, stalls and even some temporary accommodation for a summer festival. We want to reduce the amount of materials that are used only once and then chucked in a skip - Chip[s] Board is designed to break down quickly in an industrial compost."
While the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley worked from their garages, it is the kitchens and Kingston School of Art studios of the south west London suburbs that have birthed Chip[s] Board. The product started life as a final year project, with the students investigating bio-materials. The pair extracted starch from potatoes in a successful attempt to make potato plastic. This left them with a large amount of peelings with which they were keen to experiment and minimise any residual waste.
The eureka moment arrived when they realised that once baked for an extended period, the mulch produced from the potato waste became a solid form that held its shape. However this process didn't make them the most popular people in Kingston. "Initially we were looking into making biodegradable plant pots. We were keeping giant bags of potatoes in the back garden and using industrial blenders to prepare the mulch for baking," 23 year old Rowan from Bath said.
"The smell is quite unique, our housemates didn't really like us for a couple of months," explained 23 year old Rob from Essex. "We sorted the potato peelings at home and then cycled to the University to press and hang them. If we were lucky someone would give us a lift or we'd get a taxi to the restaurant so we could process the peelings. Then back to university to take them to the workshops and turn them into products. It was all a bit ad-hock but very fun...with plenty of bemused Taxi drivers in-between," he said.
Five kilograms of potato peelings produce one kilogram of Chip[s] Board, this meant a lot of potato peelings were needed in the development process. One of the next steps is to source a regular, large scale source of peelings. "We're looking to work with companies like McCains or Lamb Weston - brands that are used in restaurants and at home. If we can collect all of their waste we can turn it into something of high value," Rob said.
The product was developed with assistance from Kingston School of Art's Incubator programme led by graphic design lecturer Zoe Bather with support from the design school's director of enterprise Kieran O'Connor. The initiative gives final year graphic design students the opportunity to expand upon their entrepreneurial ideas with access to industry expertise. "The programme is guided by the students," Ms Bather explained. "Using my connections as a graphic designer we invited a small panel of industry experts to give the students feedback and the chance to network. It was a fantastic opportunity and hugely motivational for them to deliver a pitch," she said.
On the surface Chip[s] Board may not seem like the average graphic design project, however Ms Bather explained the product also needed their more traditional skills. "Chip[s] Board merges product design and material invention, but they also needed to employ a lot of core graphic design skills," she noted. "They have created a brand and a website, they are marketing their product while telling an audience their story - all things integral to graphic design and communication," she said.
Having shared their idea at the University's Manufactory event, the duo currently have a residency at Makerversity, a creative workspace for designers and entrepreneurs based at London's Somerset House, and are focused on making the product a success. "It would be amazing to see Chip[s] Board replace MDF at universities and schools," Rowan said.
"We have also discussed the possibility of producing refugee emergency housing using Chip[s] Board," Rowan continued. "A temporary village could be constructed quickly and cheaply while drastically cutting down on the waste materials normally left behind. We want this product to make a positive impact on the world and inspire more young people to find creative solutions to world issues."
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