Nataša Perković with KYOTO Design Lab- Palm Oil Fiber plates, bowls, chairs and pendant light, design trends 2020, product design

All images © Nataša Perković

The craze about going sustainable has definitely caused an increase in the demand for eco-friendly products. While many designers have made beautiful products with minimal effect on the environment, not many have come up with designs that actually make use of what is neglected. Plastic, paper, and many other materials can be recycled or up-cycled to useful products. What truly intrigues a person, is how designers can turn even something usually disposed off into something of art. 
Industrial palm oil production has several negative impacts on the environment, causing major deforestation, global warming and other serious aftereffects, but that hasn’t slowed down its manufacture or demand. Award winning Bosnian product designer Nataša Perković has designed beautiful products made out of waste fiber from industrial palm oil processing. She developed this project at KYOTO Design Lab, during her six-months design associateship from 2017-2018.
“Waste fiber from industrial palm oil processing is a major cellulose fiber by product in Southeast Asia but its potential as a design material has yet to be explored.” says Perković .
Nataša Perković with KYOTO Design Lab- Palm Oil Fiber plates, bowls, chairs and pendant light
It is often burned for energy or simply discarded. The collection was developed in a bid to turn this fiber, otherwise disposed of into a sustainable material. Perković and the team at Kyoto Design Lab studied the physio-chemical properties, to combine with the developments in bio-based materials science to make this otherwise discarded material into something of functional value. Polylactic acid (PLA)  combined with the oil palm fiber micro powder creates a new composite material suitable for use as 3D printer filament or as pellets for injection molding. Staying true to the concept, the process stays as clean as possible, keeping in mind the life cycle of the products. The end product is biodegradable and can be recycled with other PLA. 
The aesthetic beauty of the product owing to the visible oil palm fibers embedded in and reinforcing the polymer, gives it a natural look. 
Nataša Perković with KYOTO Design Lab- Palm Oil Fiber plates, bowls, chairs and pendant light


Perković says, “With its natural component, the new material should age more gracefully than conventional plastics, thus presenting an acceptable alternative to fossil-fuel plastics, as well as having a more positive environmental impact”.
The collection comprises of a 3D printed, stackable chair, meant for public use, three designs of plates and a pendant lamp. 
The chair design was made with a minimal amount of material and have optimal structural stability. Two versions of chair has been made as demonstration models; a mono-material one and the second with a padded seat. One of the main reasons that effects the life cycle of any piece of furniture is that it is difficult and expensive to separate materials. The padded version of the chair overcomes this issue. The cushion, composed of Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and oil palm fiber, can be composted together, and is wedged to the seat to make it easier. 
Nataša Perković with KYOTO Design Lab- Palm Oil Fiber plates, bowls, chairs and pendant light

The oil palm fiber was processed by soaking, boiling at high pressure, beating and then shredding finely to become suitable for forming into sheets using flat mesh screens or as molded 3D shapes. Japanese rice paste ” denpun nori” is then blended in, and together sieved through a concave sieve, formed on a mold and the objects are then air or even oven dried.

The products have been designed with a simple aesthetic to accentuate the qualities of the new material. Renewable sourced coatings such as “carnauba” palm tree wax, “kakishibu” persimmon juice varnish, cashew varnish and others have been used on the products as protective surface coating with a waterproof version coated in resin. 
This practical way of processing and transforming oil palm fiber waste can also be achieved in a developing countries where the same principle can be applied to other cellulose waste fiber such as wood or bamboo in a craft workshop or industry context.

Nataša Perković with KYOTO Design Lab- Palm Oil Fiber plates, bowls, chairs and pendant light

KIT Team

Professor Julia Cassim, Project Director, KYOTO Design Lab   
Emeritus Professor Teruo Kimura
Associate Professor Yoko Okahisa, Department of Bio-Based Materials
Professor Haruhiro Ino + Professor Kazushi Yamada, Centre for Advanced Fibro-Science
Tomohiro Inoue, Digital Factory
Yoshinori Shiki, Katsumi Kawabata, Shin Yamashita, Wood Factory