Edible water balls

 

 

A few months ago during a meeting with Conor Buckley we were talking again about bio plastics, their applications and how we might use this material in a different way to make an artwork.

At the moment because of the make up of the bio plastic and the fact that it creates a shiny surface when dry it can not be layered on top of itself, the layers stay separate.

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We talked about how he and TCD students are working with spray painting guns to spray the materials they are working with over the surface of the medical device or scaffold depending on what they are trying to achieve. He suggested that I take a look at this methodology in the development of the artworks for the 2019 exhibition. We have yet to fix on a date to start this process but I look forward to trying it out even if I will be unable to use it in this exhibition….food for thought for future projects and exhibitions.

As our project had also moved its focus to water another really interesting suggestion Conor made during this meeting was that I check out a newish phenomenon – edible water balls.

water balls

We had some interesting thoughts on how we might make some of these water balls and embed some of the plant material from the fallen Oregon Maples inside. I compiled many tests with the different forms of algae that I had been using to create the bio plastic. I crushed up calcium tablets to use in these tests….none were successful. Finally I had to turn back to Conor to see if he could source the correct alginate material for me. As always Conor came up trumps. I will post some of the image from these tests at a later stage.  Again I hope that I will get some interesting test results ready for the upcoming exhibition….

A water ball is a biodegradable and natural membrane which can be fully swallowed and digested, as well as hydrating people in the same way as drinking water. The product is made from a seaweed extract and is tasteless, although flavours can be added to it

 

To follow for your information is a brief explanation of edible water balls are and an interesting article written by A. Naresh Kumar and published online on a website entitled Science India.  http://scienceindia.in/home/view_article/328

“Water is one of the precious compounds on Earth. Availability of pure drinking water for human consumption is inevitable. Currently, major fraction of drinking water is supplied though various non-biodegradable packaged materials. However, use of non-biodegradable plastics for packaging is resulting in generating of huge quantities of waste. Alternatively, biodegradable (eco friendly) water packing materials can be considered as a solution.

Edible water balls, which are eco-friendly, can replace these millions of plastic bottles. These biodegradable water balls are composed of algae (sea weed) and are edible materials. The preparation of edible water balls is very easy, and can be prepared at home. The preparation involves mixing of sodium alginate and calcium lactate with drinking water. This forms a gelatinous membrane structure and retains the drinking water in the middle of a gelatinous structure. Sodium alginate (NaAlg) coagulates when exposed to calcium chloride (CaCl2) and forms calcium alginate (CaAlg2 ) and sodium chloride (NaCl), according to the following reaction Eq.(1). The prepared calcium alginate ball with water is considered as a refreshing edible water drink and does not require a separate vessel like a bottle or a cup to hold water.

2NaAlg + CaCl2 –> CaAlg2 + 2NaCl… Eq.1

Alginates are natural products of brown algae, and have been widely used in wound dressing, drug delivery, food applications etc. In addition, calcium is a necessary element for regular functions of human body as it also helps in bone formation and maintenance. Moreover, biocompatibility of alginate gels have been studied extensively and their safety for consumption is well established. As natural polysaccharides resistant to breakdown by human digestive enzymes, alginates are classified as dietary fiber.

Currently, the edible water container is not available commercially, although the developers are working to bring it to market. The prototypes have been tested in several markets and certain limitations are associated to reach the market. Majorly, thin membrane is not strong enough to withstand shipping and handling on a large scale. This product is named “Ooho” the edible bottle, by the Skipping Rocks Lab, a startup based in London. Water drinks on the go is the major advantage of these edible balls. In addition, these water balls are ecofriendly and serve as an alternative to plastic bottles. Drinking water from inside a soft edible membrane made from natural seaweed extract is considered as a sustainable product in the long run.”

Author:A.Naresh Kumar, CSIR-Senior Research Fellow, CEEFF, CSIR-IICT.

Bioplastics

 

bioplastic ingredients 3 lo res

During my recent mind mapping sessions in the studio I was reminded of some experimentation I completed about a year ago on bioplastics. I didn’t delve too deeply into the subject at the time but did try out a few recipes.

The reason I started thinking about bioplastics is that I am conscious for this project that I will be creating works of art that will be installed in living trees. That these trees are part of a cycle of life and decay, constantly changing and adapting to their surroundings, is something that I would like to engage with to a greater or lesser extent in my choice of what materials to use in creating the works of art.

In an ideal world one wouldn’t install man made plastic, perspex or lycra based fabrics in the trees but these are the materials I commonly use in my practice because of their vibrance of colour and glossy qualities. I am sure some of the Bioplastic options that I investigate will lead me to creating some interesting pieces for this project but I still think that the qualities of my core materials will be necessary to fulfill the artistic goals of the project.

With this in mind I have decided to explore the world of bioplastics again but in a more in depth way. After visiting the really informative site called green-plastics.net I got a few recipes to start with and set off on an unusual shopping spree. One of the hardest things was to try and find some of the ingredients they mentioned. Instead of Agar powder I ended up with dried Agar. On the plus side I found red and green coloured dried Agar options as well as the clear one. I thought I had the glycerol/ glycerine situation under control when I bought a little bottle by Dr. Otker (the only brand available in any shop I tried) but despite an internet search I couldn’t figure out what percentage glycerine was in the mixture. Currently I am assuming that it 100% as is seems quite viscous but if this isn’t the case then I am in the dark regarding how much to use. It might end up being a bit of a case of trial and error. The next dilemma was the common one of Corn starch v’s Corn flour. Most internet searches say that they are both the same. Where corn flour is readily available in most stores corn starch is much harder to find. In actual fact I have been told that corn starch is more glutenous and the resultant plastic is more transparent than the corn starch, which is whiter. So I eventually found some corn starch in my small local Asian store (where I also found the Agar). Finally some recepies mention sorbitol, which is a type of sugar. After visiting a few supermarkets and health food stores I came away empty handed. It is available to order from home brew websites and I will endeavor to find some locally in the next week or so. In the meantime I will try the recipes where I have the ‘correct’ ingredients.

bioplastic ingredients lo res

On the plus side the selection of ingredients that I did manage to acquire did go together to make a lovely colourful image – see above.

At this point I think it’s important to know that like all other plastics, bioplastics are composed of three basic parts: one or more polymers, one or more plasticizers, plus one or more additives. Roughly speaking: polymers give plastic its strength, plasticizers give it its bendable and moldable qualities, and additives give it other properties (color, durability, etc). This information helps when the recipes online get a little complicated. It also helps when troubleshooting if the results seem too sticky (less plasticiser) or too brittle (more Plasticiser).

The three types of bioplastics that I will look at are the Starch-based, Gelatin-based and Agar-based plastics. Starch, Gelatin and Agar are all biopolymers. Most of the recipes I plan to try will use glycerine/ glycerol for the plasticiser.

Starch-based plastic:

Corn starch is the starch derived from the corn (maize) grain or wheat. The starch is obtained from the endosperm of the kernel. Corn starch is a popular food ingredient used in thickening sauces or soups, and is used in making corn syrup and other sugars.

Gelatin-based plastic:

Gelatin or gelatin is a translucent, colorless, brittle, flavorless food derived from collagen obtained from various animal body parts. It is commonly used as a gelling agent in food, pharmaceutical drugs, vitamin capsules, photography and cosmetic manufacturing. It is found in most jelly candy, as well as other products such as marshmallows, gelatin desserts, and some ice creams, dips and yogurts. Gelatin for recipe use comes in the form of sheets, granules, or powder. Instant types can be added to the food as they are; others need to be soaked in water beforehand.

Gelatin is actually easier to work with than starch and will produce some nice, strong pieces of solid plastic.

Agar-based plastic:

You can make your own bioplastic from algae. The specific chemical that we are interested in is agar, which appears in red seaweed in abundance. Agar is used as a food additive in confectionaries, desserts, beverages, ice cream and health foods. It’s also used as a non-food additive in toothpaste, cosmetics, and adhesives.

There are numerous combinations and a huge range of recipes available online that one can try. For examples each of the following combinations will produce slightly different plastics with different properties. The only way to find out how they all look, perform and last over time is to really get stuck into following the recipes and see what excites me!!

I will post some of the resulting images in a later post.

Agar Only

3 g (1 tsp) agar

240 ml (1 cup) of 1% glycerol solution
180 ml (3/4 cup) water

Agar-Starch Blend

1.5 g (1/2 tsp) sorbitol
3.0 g (1 tsp) starch
300 ml (1 1/4 cup) water
0.75 g (1/2 tsp) agar
120 ml (1/2 cup) of 1% glycerol solution

Gelatin-Agar Blend

 

2.25 g (3/4 cup) sorbitol
2.25 g (3/4 cup) gelatin
2.25 g (3/4 cup) agar
180 ml (3/4 cup) of 1% glycerol solution
240 ml (1 cup) water

Of Interest:

Anyone interested in this subject might like to purchase the following book by E.S. Stevens. Green Plastics, an Introduction to the New Science of Biodegradable Plastics.

The book offers a wide variety of recipes and step-by-step instructions on making bioplastics with different properties, ranging from hard inflexible plastics to thin flexible sheets and laminates. In addition, the book carefully explains the theory behind bioplastics, with in-depth discussions of chemistry concepts as well as environmental concepts related to biodegradability and renewability.