Material Monday: Casein

Material Monday: Casein

Posted Today by Nirvana CPH

This week’s Material Monday Seetal Solanki our regular contributor from materials consultancy Ma-tt-er will be exploring a milk-based plastic.

In the early 1900s plastics made from milk proteins (known as casein) were all the rage, most commonly used by the Ancient Egyptians as a fixative for pigments in wall paintings.

In 2016 Tessa Silva-Dawson recent RCA Design Products graduate, explored methods of processing the casein, extracted from cow’s milk as a natural alternative to oil-based polymers using surplus milk from the UK’s dairy industry which currently discards over 3,500 litres of skimmed milk per week.

The production process is very similar to making cheese, applying heat to separate the curds from the liquid whey. The curds are then put through a drying process and combined with a natural plasticiser that transforms them into pellets.

Tessa explains that the casein can be applied the same way as synthetic plastics and are moulded with existing machinery from plastic factories as well as the cheese making industry. An innovative method that has the potential to be commercialised and manufactured.

The production process is very similar to making cheese, applying heat to separate the curds from the liquid whey – the curds are then put through a drying process and combined with a natural plasticiser that transforms them into pellets.

Casein plastics are not readily moulded, although sheets can be pressed into a limited range of shapes, such as shallow bowls and candlestick bases, by ‘hot stamping’. Instead, casein objects are fabricated from stock material such as sheet, rod or tube.

The material comes from an animal-based product it has very similar characteristics to other animal related products such as horn and bone. Tessa, adds that once the material is lathed it can achieve a wood-like texture, highlighting the many properties one material can possess.

The benefits of not using oil based polymers means that there are less finite resources being used in the production of polymer based materials. Initiatives such as Parley for the Oceans called plastic a “design failure” – a recent article on dezeen encouraging the creation of alternatives to plastics.

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