The Biopanel

Product designer Alejandra Olivera turns seaweed into a new eco-friendly insulation material for informal housing.

The benefits of seaweed are manifold. It is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, foodstuffs and even agricultural fertiliser. Now Argentinian-born product designer Alejandra Olivera has discovered a new and innovative application for this versatile natural resource. 

Olivera, who is busy completing a BTech in industrial design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, was inspired by the Better Living Challenge to develop a product that addresses the needs of people living in informal settlements.

In her home country she often used bamboo as a material, but since this is not readily available in South Africa she looked to other natural resources and observed the abundance of seaweed.

While doing research for her thesis, she developed the Biopanel, a biodegradable building material made out of processed seaweed using a process of her own invention. Instead of harvesting the seaweed from the ocean, it is sourced from a local kelp factory as waste. Her low-technology approach was a strategic decision designed to reduce the overall treatment and production costs.

The innovation addresses several functional needs in the building of shacks and other temporary shelters. Primarily, it addresses the need for better insulation. Many people who live in informal housing use corrugated iron as construction material, which results in houses that have poor insulation. 

The panels are structurally strong and can be used in a similar fashion to traditional corrugated iron. Furthermore, the material is non-flammable, which greatly reduces the existing risk for fires in these often high-density settlements.

The Biopanel has been selected as one of the 23 Better Living Challenge finalists in the Comfortable Home category. 

Watch this video in which Olivera explains how she came up with the idea for Biopanels:

More on Product Design