An edible water-filled bead

Meet the Ooho! – if water were a fruit, this is how it would be packaged.

Despite the global awareness of the need to recycle over the past couple of decades, the US still discards approximately 35 billion plastic bottles annually. The obvious solution to this burgeoning plastic crisis it seems is to eliminate plastic bottles altogether.

Enter the trio from Skipping Rocks Lab – Rodrigo Garcia Gonzales, Pierre Paslier and Guillaume Couche – and their ground-breaking solution to the hostile plastic water bottle takeover: the Ooho!, a biodegradable water-filled bead fashioned from brown algae and calcium chloride. Using it is as simple as puncturing the membrane, sipping the water and either eating or throwing away the casing. If water were a fruit, this is how it would it be packaged.

The trio of industrial design students met in London through the Innovation Design Engineering Course, although credit for the inspiration behind the Ooho came from an unlikely source: the scientific culinary genius of Ferran Adrià, who is widely referred to as “the world’s best chef”. Adrià is the owner of the renowned El Bulli restaurant in Spain and was a speaker at Design Indaba 2009.

Gonzales, Paslier and Couche took inspiration from Adrià's signature dishes, which turn liquids into spheres that keep their shape. The technique, called spherification, shapes liquid into spheres using alginate gelling agents.

The trio froze water, which was then submersed into a flexible calcium alginate; once the ice melted back into water, it was automatically packaged in a disposable, hygienic casing. Skipping Rocks has even taken it a step further: by introducing a double membrane, there is less potential for wastage as smaller Oohos can be kept within a bigger one – similar to the design of an orange.

"We believe Ooho! can bring a radical solution to a major problem we are generating today," says Paslier.

By investing in R&D to engineer the membrane to ensure hygiene, transportability and flexibility, we are convinced that we can bring change to our unsustainable habit on a big scale.

Skipping Rocks Lab is part of the Climate KIC startup acceleration programme founded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (KIC).

What is the cost of Ooho compared to a bottle of water? The equivalent of about 20c, and its being developed under the Creative Commons license, which opens the possibility for these to be developed at home. This could be particularly advantageous for developing countries with little water supply. 

Ooho!, which is Skipping Rocks Lab’s pilot project, won the Lexus Design Award 2014 and the World Technology Award for environment.

Watch the Talk with Ferran Adrià