Checkerspot launches algae-based plastic prototype kit for designers

California materials company Checkerspot has released a casting kit called the Pollinator Series that allows designers to experiment with making components from algae-based plastics.

The Pollinator Series is a direct designer kit that allows manufacturers to try algae-based materials designed to replace traditional polyurethane resin, a fossil fuel-derived product found in many household appliances.

Checkerspot has created a kit for designers to experiment with algae-based plastics

According to the company, the material contains 56 percent biomaterials and can be used in molds used in fossil-based products. The rest of the mixture is made fossicular derivative isocyanate.

The kit was formulated to respond to the designers’ demands for renewable materials.

Plastic algae in liquid form
The resin uses oils from fermented algae.

“Historically, product designers, hobbyists, and artists have been limited to materials available to them from commodity-based suppliers,” said Checkerspot founder Charles Dimmler.

“Raw material producers can often ignore these small but powerful groups and instead choose to bring their materials to market through well-known consumer brands.”

Checkerspot algae plastic resin in molds
The resin can be used to make a variety of plastic products.

Using biotechnology, Checkerspot was able to create a production method that harvests oil from algae to create “renewable building blocks” for use in product design.

Microalgae oil is obtained from large industrial plants, most of them in southern Brazil, where after mass fermentation the algae are mixed with sugars and then water is extracted to produce the oil.

Surfboard fins made of algae-based resin
The polyurethane is produced at the company’s factory in Salt Lake City.

“This approach combines the productivity of a highly productive, fast-growing, photosynthetic plant (sugarcane) with the productivity of a highly productive, fast-growing, oil-producing microbe to make a very sensitive strain of oil,” Checkerspot said.

“The result is a lower land footprint, a much lower water footprint, and lower carbon use than other ways of producing oil.”

The oils are converted to polyols, which Checkerspot then converts to polyurethane at a facility in Salt Lake City.

“This strategy turns a blind eye to renewable energy sources, limits the scope of how they can be used, and narrows the impact they can have as a result.”

Skateboard wheels made of algae-based resin
Checkerspot’s kits are made for experienced designers and novices

It can be used to make small to medium-sized products, from jewelry and phone cases to surfboards and furniture, and includes a choice of resins, mixers and a pigment made from algae.

Checkerspot said the kits are designed for both designers who already use polyurethane and novices looking to get started with resins.

Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, founder of Interwoven Design Group, told Dezeen that her studio is experimenting with using the product for prototypes.

“By 3D printing a mold and then pouring it into urethane we can see the part, test its durability and function, and make any adjustments to the design before sending a part to vacuum casting or injection molding,” Pailes-Friedman said.

“This saves time and money.”

Other designers working to test the material and process include Waves Not Plastic, a California-based surfboard manufacturer.

“Access to the Pollinator Kit has given our team at Waves Not Plastic bio-based materials with a lifecycle start that is consistent with our mission to reduce the world’s dependence on petrochemicals,” said founder Jeff Lenore.

Knife handle made of algae-based plastic
The resin can be used in the same molds as conventional fossil-based polyurethanes.

The two components of the kit become active within 10 to 15 minutes after mixing, and the bonding time takes approximately eight hours.

The kits come with about a kilogram of product, but designers can order larger quantities if needed.

Prior to the kits’ launch, Checkerspot founded a company called WNDR Alpine, which creates skis from a similar algae-based process.

Other new uses for algae include limestone composites created from the material by researchers at the University of Colorado.

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