Student makes furniture out of urine

The furniture is made from from uric acid and bacteria. Picture: comp
The furniture is made from from uric acid and bacteria. Picture: comp
8
Have your say

IT may look like the sort of trendy furniture you’d expect to find in a Leith harbourside penthouse – but this particular seat has a secret formula...

An Edinburgh College of Art student has created a machine which makes furniture out of cheap and easy to get hold of natural ingredients: namely, sand, bacteria and urine.

Peter Trimble. Picture: contributed

Peter Trimble. Picture: contributed

Peter Trimble, 23, who has just graduated in product design, came up with the device as part of his final year project.

He uses his method to fashion funky furniture.

However, he also hopes his icky formula could be used to provide a greener form of construction – one which could even put a roof over peoples’ heads in disaster zones.

He said: “It’s not very well known, but the manufacture of concrete is a major contributor to CO2 emissions, producing 20 billion tonnes per year, or five per cent of annual global emissions. My mini-manufacturing unit is cheap and uses an abundant raw material.”

As part of his research Mr Trimble turned to nature, to see what the plant and animal kingdom could teach him about bonding and binding materials together.

“I took inspiration from a relatively new branch of science called biomimicry, where we look to natural systems that have evolved over millions of years and see what we can learn from them as we try to solve modern problems. I came across a bacterium which can bind together loose soil. But it needs an energy source to do this, which can be provided by urea, an organic compound found in human urine.”

By harnessing this material Mr Trimble was able to create a biological reaction which turns sand into sandstone.

“The urea acts as a fertiliser and encourages the bacteria to flourish before it combines with the calcium chloride to form calcite, or calcium carbonate, a sticky substance that glues the grains of sand together,” he explained.

“Obviously the material created would need to be reinforced in some way, in the same way that concrete is, and it would also be more susceptible to erosion by the elements, but it could still have plenty of applications, for example, to create low cost and environmentally friendly building materials in the Third World. Plus, the material can be broken down and used as fertiliser once its initial purpose has been fulfilled.”

However, Mr Trimble admits that he has not yet started harvesting one of his main ingredients direct from the source...

“As I was short for time I used chemical urea from a laboratory, so it’s not like I left a bucket in the bathroom for my flatmates to fill up every day! However, if you collect enough human urine it is possible to extract urea from it directly.”

And the bioengineers who helped him develop his project certainly do not think he is taking the p***.

Research and development advisor Dr Bryne Ngwenya, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Peter’s work illustrates the potential scalability of the biological production method.

“The simplicity of his method enables its realisation into mass manufacture.”

CURIOUS INGREDIENTS

THIS seat is not the first everyday item to be made using unusual techniques.

Last year, dairy firm Arla commissioned a coat made entirely from men’s chest hair.

It took designers 200 hours to weave together up to a million strands of hair to make the jacket to coincide with the launch of a new milk drink, Wing-co, aimed at men.

Artist Kevin Champen designed a chandelier made of 3000 hand-cast acrylic Gummy Bears – called the Candelier – for home furnishings company Jellio.

British fine art duo Fantich & Young made a pair of black lace-up Oxfords with soles made of teeth.

Dubbed the “Apex Predator Shoes”, the teeth came from China and cost £1500.