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Sweetcorn-based carbon-positive tiles cut emissions and toxins

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Manufacturers exploit massive stockpile of discarded cob cores and low-energy production process for climate-positive range of interior cladding

Cornwall moodboard.
Cornwall moodboard. Credit: StoneCycling

Sweetcorn is one of the most common agricultural crops on the planet, yet the cores of cobs are typically burnt as biomass, fermented, or simply left on the field to rot.

Seeing the potential for this vast untapped waste stream, manufacturers Stonecycling and Circular Matters decided to exploit it as a key ingredient in a new sustainable range of interior cladding.

CornWall tiles and sheets are intended as a bio-based alternative to vertical ceramic interior wall tiles or plastic laminate. According to the manufacturer, the product is climate-positive, storing more CO₂ than is emitted during production, is biodegradable, has no end-of-life waste, and is 100% recyclable. An Environmental Product Declaration is being developed for publication before the summer.

Everyone likes a bit of butter on their sweetcorn, but CornWall’s ‘secret sauce’ is an innovative low-energy production process developed by Circular Matters, a start-up spun out from Belgium's KU Leuven University, to enhance the natural biopolymers leading to more durable materials.

CornWall production.
CornWall production. Credit: StoneCycling

Cobs are first dried and shredded into biomass, then mixed with other agricultural waste, binders and pigments, the latter being the only non bio-based ingredient making up just 0.5% of the product. The material is then pressed into a plate material at a relatively low heat of 120-150 degrees, with the heat and pressure activating the biopolymers to bind them together. Tiles are finally given a thin bio-coating for water resistance.

Carbon sequestered in the corn cobs is locked away in the tiles until they reach end of life and are left to decompose. Tiles are designed for use in retail, hospitality and offices and to avoid disposal as part of the regular fit-out cycle, they are not glued but attached to a demountable mechanical fixing system, which can be  removed to enable 100% reuse of the material.

The product is moisture and dirt resistant and can be used for vertical wall cladding, panelling and backsplashes. However, unlike ceramic tiles, it cannot be used in wet areas, like showers, or horizontally on floors or table tops.

‘We wanted to maintain the biodegradability of the product so we don’t add chemicals that would make it applicable for flooring and wet areas,’ Ward Massa, co-founder of  StoneCycling, said. ‘Producing CornWall does not require scarce raw materials and hardly requires energy. In fact, it’s made with 100% electrical power that comes from solar panels.’

  • Credit: StoneCycling
  • Credit: StoneCycling
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CornWall is available in six colours and two sizes, developed in collaboration with Dutch design practice Studio Nina van Bart. ‘Larger clients can develop custom colours and textures with us,’ said Massa. ‘The largest tile we have is 600 by 600 by 3mm. The product is also super light, saving CO2 during transport.’

In replacing fossil-based plastics and resins and eliminating CO2 from production, this is one eco product that really could help build a brighter future for the planet …as corny as that might sound.

 

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