Malai –a newly developed biocomposite material
Malai is a flexible, durable biocomposite material with a feel comparable to leather or paper. It is water resistant and because it contains absolutely no artificial ‘nasties’ it will not cause any allergies, intolerances or illness. It is a completely vegan product and as such you could even eat it!
A newly developed biocomposite material made from entirely organic and sustainable bacterial cellulose, grown on agricultural waste sourced from the coconut industry in Southern India. They work with the local farmers and processing units, collecting their waste coconut water (which would otherwise be dumped, causing damage to the soil) and re-purposing it to feed the bacteria’s cellulose production. One small coconut-processing unit can collect 4000 litres of water per day, which can use to make 320 sq. meters of Malai.
The word ‘Malai’ refers directly to the creamy flesh of the coconut and it is the coconut water (a by-product from the harvesting of this flesh) that sustains the bacteria whilst they are producing the cellulose, which is then in turn collected and refined until it becomes the finished material: Malai.
A product made from Malai will last many years if properly cared for, however should you wish to have a clear-out, it can simply be placed in with your compostable rubbish and it will naturally break down.
Company: The start-up company specialises in creating and developing bio-based materials. They were inspired by the beauty and purity of natural materials, and by the life-cycle and ecology of the coconut palm in particular. They also collaborate with local communities of makers as well as working with suppliers whose ethical approach is transparent and verified.
The Story: ZUZANA GOMBOSOVA, is a material researcher and designer from Slovakia. She is a graduate from MA Material Futures at Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design.
SUSMITH C S, is a product designer and maker from Kerala. He is a graduate of MDes Product design & Manufacturing at IISc Bangalore and has a background in mechanical engineering.
They met in Mumbai in 2015, by which time Zuzana had already been working for over three years on bacterial cellulose as a material. She was keen to explore the potential in India for employing a traditional bacterial-cellulose growth process used in the Philippines, where ‘Nata de Coco’ (the Filipino version of this substance) is an important part of the food industry.
The name of Susmith’s home region can be literally translated as ‘the land of coconuts’, which given the circumstances, was a good sign!
Having started experimenting with growing materials on a small scale, before long Zuzana and Susmith discovered they shared more profound values, a passion for craft and making as well as a concern for sustainability and the environment. Oh, also, not only do they both love a good coconut but they are firm believers in coconut karma whereby people who behave badly will one day have a well-deserved coconut fall on their heads as punishment!
In 2017 we moved to a coconut-cultivating region in Southern India and began working full-time to develop Malai and to consider in what context this new material could be applied. Their studio & manufacturing unit are currently based in Cherthala, Kerala.
Material : It comes in different weight. The higher the weight the stronger the material, thinner is more flexible and softer. It comes as Soft (300-500 gsm), Mediuma (550-650gsm), Strong (750-100gsm) in 120X80 size sheets. All Malai in matt, semi-glossy and glossy finish, all coatings are biodegradable, either water-based or oil-based. The price starts from 3.5 euro and depends on material type and quantity, color, gsm etc.
Process: Collection: They collect work alongside Southern India’s coconut farmers and processing units who find themselves with much ‘waste’ coconut water after they’ve removed the harvest of white flesh from inside the mature coconuts. Normally this waste water would be released into the drainage system, but this in itself causes pollution of water and the soil to become acidified.
Fermentation: Then this coconut water, place it into vats and sterilise it, resulting in an energy-rich, entirely natural nutrient upon which our bacterial culture can feed. They combine the nutrient and the culture and then just let the bacteria do its thing. The fermentation period takes between twelve to fourteen days, at the end of which time: hey presto! A sheet of cellulose ‘jelly’ has been produced!
Formation : They harvest the jelly which then undergoes a process of refinement. It is enriched with natural fibres, gums and resins to create a more durable and flexible material which may then be formed into flat sheets in a range of thicknesses and textures, or moulded seamlessly into 3D structures. A range colours can be achieved through the addition of natural dyes, if so desired.
Finishing: The final stages for creating Malai include leaving it to air-dry, and then softening it whilst applying gentle water-resistant treatment (without adding any plastic coatings or synthetic ingredients).
For more information on Malai and for contact details visit http://made-from-malai.com