UK start-up is chipper over plans to build with potatoes

Words:
Stephen Cousins

McCain’s waste by-products will make reusable, compostable boards for pop-ups and fit-outs

CPB sample production
CPB sample production Credit: Chip[s] Board ltd

Whether mashed, baked or fried, the humble potato is surely the world’s most versatile vegetable, but no one has considered using it as a construction material, until now...

UK start-up Chip[s] Board has developed a sustainable alternative to MDF that combines a non-toxic binding agent, made from potato peel, with fibres from waste potato skins, bamboo, beer hops and recycled wood.

The patent-pending technology aims to tackle the twin issues of material waste and food waste. By using by-products from industrial food manufacture – frozen potato goliath McCain supplies all the potato peel – boards can be biodegraded into fertilizer at the end of their useful life instead of sent to landfill.

The firm intends to focus on quick turnaround building projects, such as pop-up events or interior fit outs, to optimise the benefit to the environment. Rob Nicoll, CPO and co-founder at Chip[s] Board, told RIBAJ: ‘We want to focus on fast-moving design space and things like pop-up events, shop fit outs, or exhibitions and events that last between two weeks and two months before the requirements for the space change. The aim is to ensure that materials don't just end up in landfill when they reach the end of their useful life.’

  • Chip Particle Board [CPB] Colour Samples
    Chip Particle Board [CPB] Colour Samples Credit: Chip[s] Board ltd
  • Chip Strand Board [CSB] Samples 001
    Chip Strand Board [CSB] Samples 001 Credit: Chip[s] Board ltd
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The approach is in line with the principles of the circular economy, which aims to close the energy loop and ensure that waste resources are fed back into manufacture instead of continually processing virgin materials.

Chip[s] Board is currently at R&D scale, but sample materials produced in the lab have managed to achieve comparable strength to MDF and chipboard says Nicoll: ‘Tensile strength is slightly lower, but the internal bond is higher than conventional materials. The aim is to match the 20-year lifespan of MDF, so there is also potential for the product to be used in longer term building applications.’

Feedback indicates that clients are interested in the high carb alternative, he adds: ‘We have had huge feedback on the need for a product like this and are in discussions with high end fashion chains and high street shops that are desperately looking for sustainable eco materials for shop fit outs and visual merchandising.’ In other words, it's a hot potato people are keen to get their teeth into.

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