The sustainability of Strawboard as a material for creating fitted furniture.

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The sustainability of Strawboard as a material for creating fitted furniture.

Tristan Titeux’s Pioneering Journey to find the most sustainable eco-friendly materials to design and build Empatika’s bespoke Fitted Furniture.

My journey started in December 2010 when I decided to research and publish my findings of various materials that are available on the European and World market but specially the UK.

On the journey I am taking to discover materials that would be suitable to make Empatika’s modern Eco fitted furniture, I found a great renewable and waste material that would be perfect to make wardrobes and other fitted furniture such as bookcases, media units for TV’s and HIFI’s, storage cupboards, shoe cupboard and home offices; it is straw, which is a waste product of making wheat as you know or Barley, oats, rice or rye, so if you take this waste product which is often burned (no longer allowed in the uk since 1993)or turned back in the soil when not made into straw bedding for animals you can turn it into a very useful and valuable board materials to allow people like us to create contemporary Eco furniture that doesn’t pollute your home or your health if it is bound under pressure with it’s own natural glues like paper masher, but this is still not very common, you are more likely to find straw board mainly coming from china which has MDI glues which are safer than Formaldehyde because they don’t let out gases (off gas) while in your home.

Strawboard can be used just like mdf as it comes in sheets that are flat then can be cut to make contemporary eco fitted furniture such as the wardrobes that Empatika can make with great care and precision, the texture is not 100% perfectly flat but it has a texture that adds character, I guess that it could be made smoother like MDF in the future if the straw was ground finer.

Panel made with straw bonded with formaldehyde free MDI glue.

In fact many waste plant materials can be turned into boards, Empatika hopes to find more sources of such natural products to keep on making more and more sustainable and healthy furniture, these days we are so surrounded by noxious cocktail of chemicals around the home from things like fire retardants in your sofa, carpets, to the paints on your walls, and all the plastics that you use every day that contribute to bad health that it makes sense to minimize these as much as possible.

Straw is a local material as it is grown locally in most parts of the world, so it is an ideal crop as far as reducing food miles go.

At the moment Straw board is imported mainly from China which is not very sustainable as it uses up alot of energy traveling from so far away, but the idea is that strawboard will become popular and once there is a bigger market demand here then it can be made in the UK. Empatika is at the forefront of promoting such clean and sustainable technologies, to ensure that our children and their children have a clean planet to live in that is diverse and full of life.

We have plenty of straw available here in the UK, total straw production is 10 Million tonnes per year of that around 40% is unused or returned to the soil, so I think that this could be great to use to make some of this to make boards to use as well as wood boards to give a good variety of material available. It is a good idea to use as many different sources as possible to make things so that not one can take over and cause problems if there is either a lack of that crop or a problem with it, disease or environmental issue. I am very against using crops such as straw to burn in power plants to produce energy, that is not very efficient, I think burning should be a last resort, first use it for animal bedding, put some in the ground if needed for fertilising, and use the rest for all different uses including strawboards and also strawbales for making houses of course! There are many uses. But burning it first off is a no no for me. Once it has come to the end of it’s useful life, has been turned into boards for example, then it can no longer be reused or recycled then consider burning it, if it is made lf natural materials.

I think all things should follow that priority cycle or reduce, use, reuse, recycle, compost, burn. Another thing that needs addressing is the fact that straw is made using chemical fertilisers and pesticides which go and pollute the environment and decrease bio diversity, for straw to be totally sustainable it needs to be grown Organically.

Different panels available.

Enviroboard is really sustainable as it uses many different straws mixed together such as rice, barley, wheat straw, elephant grass or recycled paper which is manufacutered in the US.

Environ biocomposites makes Biofiber which is made of straw and Dakota Burl which is made of sunfllower hulls.

Kirei strawboard made from sorghum http://youtu.be/JfjDyPjW6bQ

We have used a similar materials found and produced in the UK by Stramit in a pioneering project by Empatika making strawboard floating shelves, this is the first time that anyone has used this material to make fitted furniture as it is usually used for insulation in buildings designed by Stramit. Below is a picture of the project where you can see the straw exposed at the front of the shelf. The straw board is bonded together under extremely high pressure and that is what keeps it together without glue apart from a cardboard outer coating to keep it together.

Pioneering project designed by Tristan Titeux, Creative director of Empatika in London Natures Paper in Australia currently make a paper made from straw.

  Another video on strawboard, though I am not sure about the claims that it uses natural glue to bond it and that it is biodegrable, it uses MDI glue and I am not aware that MDI glue is biodegradable, and it is certainly not natural it is a by product of the oil industry (I think it is important to be truthful and not over play and invent things to make them sound better than they are): http://youtu.be/8Jd0920Cxh8 In 2011 Envirowall has started selling strawboard and other amazing eco board products in the UK http://youtu.be/2h3tcbhB4j4

How Strawboard is made: http://youtu.be/-aH3rgdYqiw Here is a company in Canada making strawboard: http://youtu.be/lZTwP8KkLUs   

History.

Construction panels built from agricultural wastes have been around for hundreds of years, especially in Central and Eastern Europe where pressed leaves and straw were used as insulation and even structural material.

Strawboard isn’t a new invention. In 1887, Monroe Seiberling of Akron, Ohio, traveled to Kokomo to open the Kokomo Strawboard Company, which would make shoeboxes out of straw and employ seventy-five people.

In 1836: Andrew Tait built a paper and strawboard mill in Trumbull US. You would think that plastic that is made with petrol could never be made with plant material, but cars are also being made out of straw, this also is not new. Bio-composite materials have been around at least since the 1920s, when Henry Ford built prototype car components, including dashboards, door panels and passenger compartment parts, out of hemp-derived plastics.

But as the car-making industry works to become more sustainable, veggie-based bio-composites are taking on newfound importance across the industry. After all, compared to traditional materials, they’re light, strong, durable and competitively priced.

The parts are not made from raw vegetables; instead, their fibers and chemicals are broken down at microscopic levels and reformed into usable compounds.

Scientists say bio-composites are kilo-for-kilo stronger than steel, and are lighter and cheaper to produce than traditional petroleum-based plastics.

We are so used to petrol making everything from fuel, to plastic cups and the clothing we wear that we would be led to believe that plant based materials are an old technologies of the past, but it is very much of the future, let us learn more from our past and we will better understand our future.

How Strawboard is made:

If you want to make strawboard you can buy the machines from Compak systems    

Isobord Plant.

 Isobord in Canada, Manitoba started making strawboard in the 90’s with a cooperative of 350 farmers in a $140 Million, 215 thousand square foot plant, capable of processing 200 thousand tonnes of wheat straw per year (in the UK we currently have over 2 million tonnes of waste straw available), designed to produce 130 million square feet of strawboard (two per cent of the entire North American particleboard market).

More of Isobord and tons of in depth information about the strawboard making process here: http://www.forestnet.com/archives/Dec_Jan_99/mill_profile.html

  Another interesting and detailed account of the Isobord strawboard making process: http://www.woodworkingnetwork.com/articles/isobord_enterprises_inc_-_wheat_fields_of_dreams_127688668.html

More about Straw and it’s qualities: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3156/is_n1_v103/ai_n25024836/ Strawboard in the US: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3156/is_n1_v103/ai_n25024842/ About Straw on Wikipedia  

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I would like to thank the amazing photographer Stefan Lubo for letting me use the Featured image of the straw bales, you can commission Stefan to document your life in a special way, check out his website StefanLubo.com  

About the Author:

Tristan
Tristan is the founder and director of Empatika. He has been designing bespoke fitted furniture for over a decade now, from wardrobes, bookcases, media units home libraries all built in peoples homes mostly in London. Tristan's background in photography allows him to design beautifully balanced pieces of built in furniture. He is also passionate about taking care of the Rainforest and buys an acre of the Amazon for each of his clients.