This Designer Turned the Pollutant Algae Bloom into Post Stamps

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of Venetian waters in a cleaner, clearer state because of the current pandemic. Well, for the longest time, algae has polluted Venetian Lagoon. To make something good out of something rather malignant, Spanish-Italian designer Pablo Dorigo Sempere extracted and used it to make paper postage stamps for the Italian city.

The designer made the product to show how algae paper meets the criteria to be a good material for post stamps. His project is called From Venice with Algae. Dorigo Sempere hoped that using the paper method to make stamps, more people around the world will see the innovative and eco-friendly material and choose it as an alternative.

“Stamps are very interesting objects in themselves, since they have always represented historical moments, but also show a high level of technology. If we go into collectibles, stamps are the objects that achieve the highest weight-to-value ratio in the world” Dorigo Sempere said.

“The stamp has the extraordinary power to travel all over the world and to tell a story. Being in the environmental situation in which we are, I realised that working with paper in a sustainable way can be as necessary as working with any other typical everyday object,” he went on.

Algae paper technology

Now, I have to clarify that this designer did not invent the technology. He simply wanted to popularize it or at least make more people aware of it. Algae paper, also known as Shiro Alga Carta, has existed since 1992 in Italy by Venetian paper company Favini.

Favini started making its Shiro Alga Paper when the Italian government asked the company to find a technique to make use of the build-up of algae that was harming the ecosystem in Venice’s canals. And they did, until today. They’ve had paper made without cutting down more trees and marine life has been happier.

The company firstly extracts and dries the algae, then they grind it down in a special mill and combine it with paper pulp. In order to understand this technology and product better, Dorigo Sempere learnt how to make the paper himself from raw ingredients. He dealt with thin powdered algae, coarse powdered algae and cellulose fibres.

Then, he organised the paper production into three phases: preparing the pulp into fibres, forming the paper on a wire-mesh mould, and finally drying and finishing the paper’s surface.

The process of turning algae into paper

The first step to making algae paper is to hang the cellulose fibres in clear water for 24 hours, making them soft and macerated. Then, the fibers are moved into a container and mixed with the thin and coarse powdered algae in different amounts, depending on the desired colour and texture of the final result.

Final surface texture depends on the thickness of the powdered algae. If it’s thick, then the result will be more irregular, rough, and darker in color. It can range in colour from ivory to dark brown. A deckle is then dipped into the container and used to scoop up fibers and then left alone to dry under a press for 48 hours.

You can get different thickness of this paper by altering the depth that you put soak the deckle in. Dorigo Sempere decided on a width of around 0.3 millimetres. If you wanna know more about paper making, I’m sure you can find a video of this process with a deckle everywhere on the internet. Some are really relaxing and have ASMR-ish quality if you’re into that stuff.

After discovering that a 10% ratio of algae caused the paper to become fragile and prone to crumbling, Dorigo Sempere decided on a percentage of algae that is between 3 to 8 percent. This ratio gave him the option of controlling the colour and texture of the material without compromising on quality and printability of the paper.

Paper’s done, then the designer turned it into post stamps. He gave each piece serrated edges and replaced the watermarks found on typical stamps with barcodes. The barcodes have been designed and laser printed onto the stamps to be both graphically and aesthetically pleasing and readable by optical sensors.

Since there are barcodes, people can scan them with smartphones and they’ll be directed to a web link telling the full story of the creation of the algae paper.

Aside from being sustainable and beneficial to marine life, what else is special about algae paper? Dorigo Sempere stated that this paper has an off-white hue and powder-like appearance, although it performs just as well as traditional paper. The From Venice with Algae stamps were created during his time at ÉCAL as part of the “Aesthetics of Sustainability” project.

Algae for motorcycles

Any proud Vietnamese here? You should be prouder, because a group of students from the HCM City Economics and Laws University has developed an algae species as a way to reduce motorcycle emissions.

Nature is amazing and we can get many things from it, it’s so brilliant. So the algae is combined with chlorophyll to make some kind of a filter. Inspired by personal experience, a member of the group decided to make something for an improvement.

Tran Gia Linh, a member of the group, said she at times could not see the ground when looking down from the eighth floor of her dormitory at 9 in the morning, she concluded that the high level of photochemical smog was the cause.

Linh’s team read a report showing that CO2 emissions are 64% of the reasons behind global warming. They wanted to find a solution that reduces CO2 emissions to the environment. The team then found that algae has the ability to absorb carbon dioxide very well and at a large capacity (up to 80%). Additionally, it can survive harsh environments.

As a result, the group has made an algae filter that is sustainable, easy to use and produce, and not expensive. What’s interesting is, they decided to raise algae in exhaust pipes. So the group will install a device behind the pipe, which comprises one membrane with algae, and one membrane with water and nutrients needed to feed algae.

With that done, the students are planning to research further and find the most feasible designs. Linh said, “The idea sounds crazy, but it can turn into reality. We came up with the decision to make a diaphragm that minimizes the CO2 coming from the motorcycle exhaust pipe to the environment by growing algae and chlorophyll.”

So what’s next? Well, more research is the answer. Surely a new discovery like this needs quite a lot of development so that it’ll be a good final result. The students are going to do that in the laboratory and they don’t plan to stop with the project. Moreover, they’ve received support as well as professional advice from many parties, including teachers from the University of Science and Technology, International University and UPSHIFT Organizing Committee (a project to find and nurture community projects).

“We want to do something to contribute to the cause of environmental protection,” Linh said.




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