Creator and supplier of realistic artificial green walls, Vistafolia, has launched a collaboration with the University of Surrey to create a new base polymer, the material that their artificial plants are made from, using renewable sources, while maintaining the established safety and design standards of its original product.
Co-funded by Innovate U.K., as part of the wider Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) program and by Vistafolia as part of their wider investment, this KTP project will see Vistafolia’s own research and development team working with two KTP Associates, Dr. Elham Ketabchi and Dr. Filip Ambroz, who, with the support of Dr. Sadhukhan, Dr. Roth and Dr. Mohagheghian from the University of Surrey, will transfer and embed their existing knowledge in biomass processing and materials science respectively, to enable Vistafolia to become the first artificial plant manufacturer to move towards a bio-based polymer.
The naturalistic green wall panels are currently produced to directly replicate the organic movement and texture of living walls, with each bespoke design being curated to fit the individual needs of the space and location, using a selection of shapes and hues to add color and dimension. The new formulation will also replace the current fire-retardant additive with a more environmentally friendly version that will enhance the new product’s non-toxic and recyclable qualities, while also retaining a high standard of fire retardancy and UV stability.
Vistafolia’s existing product already offers an alternative to living green walls, removing the use of 189 liters of water per year (per m2 of green wall compared to living plants), as well as fertilizer and pesticide usage through its low maintenance solution, and the new product characterization will build upon this to commit Vistafolia to sustainable future biopolymer, a first in the industry. Bio-based polymers, or biopolymers, are natural materials created using living organism cells, such as biomass, food waste or used cooking oil, and produce virtually no carbon footprint when compared with petro-carbon resins.
Proposed sustainability properties of the new bio-polyethylene product include:
- Saving 70 tons of petroleum-based plastic being used in production per year by Vistafolia with the new bio-polymer formulation.
- Net carbon-neutrality when manufacturing Vistafolia’s products with the bio-polyethylene material.
British innovation is a core part of the company’s roots, and the KTP further cements their support of the sector. The Knowledge Transfer Partnership program is a U.K. scheme that brings together academics with businesses to propel industry advancement and create competitive advantages, using researcher knowledge to assist in the development of new products or projects for companies.
“We are incredibly excited to be working with the University of Surrey on this revolutionary research project, uniting meticulous design with pioneering science to accelerate the creation of a more sustainable product offering for our clients. The UK government has backed this project which is a great achievement for Vistafolia and the university as they are confident that we can produce this new, innovative product. Not only will the project increase our own innovation efforts, but the partnership will strengthen our positioning as a U.K.-led global business within the competitive artificial plant market. We hope to drive sustainability in the sector and encourage our competitors to focus on sustainability as a key issue while pushing the environmental boundaries in R&D and production,” said Paul Alder, managing director of Vistafolia.
“The opportunity of creating a brand-new biopolymer formula with sustainable and recyclable properties for Vistafolia is a really exciting prospect and one I’m thrilled to be working on. Ensuring the bio-based formulation maintains the high quality of the existing product is a welcome challenge, however I believe my expertise in understanding the standards and methods is well placed to do so, and I’m really looking forward to establishing a new UK research and development base in Vistafolia as well,” said Dr Elham Ketabchi, KTP associate.
“There are many pathways that we will need to explore in this project, and therefore innovation is the key to creating this new bio-based formulation. By working with Elham in the laboratory performing experimentation and materials characterisation, we will be able to combine our experience to not only create a more sustainable product for Vistafolia, but additionally produce a much-needed step forward for the wider sustainability challenges in the plastics arena,” said Dr Filip Ambroz, KTP associate.
“The University of Surrey is very proud to enter into this partnership with Vistafolia on this ground-breaking project. We have two outstanding knowledge transfer partnership associates who are leading the project and making very good progress with the novel formulation process synthesis and the product development. In spite of the various difficulties, I strongly believe we’ll be able to achieve novel formulations for biopolymers within the timescale to address a number of global challenges, not just the company’s own problem, and we are very keen to have recyclable plastics in place,” said Dr Jhuma Sadhukhan, reader of the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability.