Silt Studio

The Biosphere Cellulose Kitchen presents how the production of bacterial cellulose, as a replacement for single-use plastic, can be integrated into our everyday routines. This cellulose kitchen is a kitchen island furniture piece that creates storage bags and film cover out of bacterial cellulose, otherwise known as SCOBY. The furniture piece divides into compartments for starting a batch of cellulose with a medium, fermenting the cellulose, and drying and waterproofing the material. The bacterial cellulose will grow thick enough to dry in one week.

The design of the Biosphere Cellulose Kitchen is a table with a removable cutting board on top. Underneath the cutting board lies an aluminum bin where the user pours the growth medium in combination with a starter cellulose piece. This bin is then moved to a rack under the table where four aluminum bins can fit to ferment for about seven days. Once ready, the cellulose is moved to the drying rack underneath the table where it is either dried as a standalone thin film plastic replacement or as a biodegradable storage bag with two pieces of cellulose that are dried together. When two pieces of cellulose are dried together, they fuse together to create one piece. The table utilizes this biological phenomena by using three wooden frames. Two of the frames hold the two pieces of cellulose together on all four sides. The third smaller wooden frame sits in the middle between the two cellulose pieces so that the cellulose does not fuse together in center of the bag. Once dry, the cellulose bag is cut off one side to create an open end that can be closed with a chip bag clip.

With the help of fabrication team Silt Studio, the table was designed with natural and recyclable materials. The top of the Biosphere Cellulose Kitchen was made from hardwood ash and was ebonized with Woca Denmark water-based stain. A final finish was applied with Osmo Polyx-oil made from natural oils (sunflower, soybean, and thistle) and waxes (carnauba and candelilla), plus a bit of low-odor, benzene-free solvent. Once dry, the clear satin finish is food-safe. The fermentation bins were made from recyclable aluminum instead of materials like anodized aluminum which cannot be recycled. The table used Japanese-style woodworking joints like tsugite and shiguchi so that the furniture piece can be easily disassembled and reassembled.

Bacterial cellulose has been in the periphery of scientific research for decades but the popularity of kombucha in the last decade coincides with artists, designers, and scientists experimenting with it as a material and the beginning of businesses developing around cellulose materials. Bacterial cellulose is a byproduct of the acetic acid fermentation process that many are familiar with such as the SCOBY in kombucha or “the mother” in apple cider vinegar. The materials cellulose are most commonly designed to replace are leather, paper, and plastic. In particular, bacterial cellulose has great potential in replacing shrink wrap, plastic bags, and thin film plastic. It’s thin, it’s flexible, and most importantly it degrades quickly over time unlike plastic which takes centuries and sometimes millennia to degrade.
Bacterial cellulose is not currently available to consumers as a plastic alternative.

The Biosphere Cellulose Kitchen bridges that consumer gap by creating a way to make cellulose at home. The Biosphere Cellulose Kitchen takes the place of a kitchen island. With a starter cellulose piece and a medium called Hestrin-Schramm, the bacterial cellulose will grow thick enough in one week. Bacterial cellulose holds about 200 times its weight in water. That means a wet cellulose piece that is about a centimeter thick is ready to be dried to about the thickness of thin film plastic or paper.
This Biosphere Cellulose Kitchen is meant to be prototypical with only one physical model created but the implications are far reaching. While the Biosphere Cellulose Kitchen exhibition showed how individuals can replace their single-use plastic waste with cellulose, the ultimate goal is to develop new methods and tools that manufacturers can use to produce biomaterials at scale.

The kombucha industry grew from $1 million in sales in 2014 to $1.8 billion in sales in 2019. The popularity of kombucha has paved way for artists and tinkerers to explore uses for bacterial cellulose but this has not translated into investment dollars for bacterial cellulose companies such as Polybion in Mexico with only $4 million in Series A funding or MakeGrowLab in Poland with $350k in seed funding. Plastic pollution is urgent but the bacterial cellulose industry is in its nascent stages.

Key Team Members

Design by Abi Lambert (@abi_designlab) in collaboration with Silt Studio (@silt_studio),
Concept, Research, and Art Direction by Abi Lambert (@abi_designlab),
Fabrication by Silt Studio (@silt_studio),
Photography by Austin Presley (@apresleyphoto),
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