French eco-designer Samuel Tomatis has been exploring the potential of seaweed as a biodegradable material for a couple of years now, and this research has yielded a variety of objects, including a chair, bowls and textiles, and even a 'lamp'.
"Seaweed materials and algae products don't produce any waste," explains 26-years-old Samuel Tomatis. The young French designer, who graduated from the Paris design school ENSCI – Les Ateliers, became interested in using seaweed in his work during a holiday on the coast of Brittany, where he observed the abnormal abundance of seaweed along the shores. The phenomenon is caused by pollution (fertilisers, sewage, etc.) and Tomatis immediately saw the potential advantages of this living surplus material. ‘I immediately thought of creating a material out of it that would highlight this waste,' he recalls.
Tomatis started to harvest some of the seaweed, conducted tests once it had dried, and made samples. "Initially, I had a very artisanal approach," he says. "I tested several different species of seaweed until I found a resistance, aesthetic and thickness of material that I liked."
Research, and trial and error are important in Tomatis' work process. Thus, his "lamp" made of seaweed is not yet in production, because the designer is not 100% satisfied by the result. "I am currently working on this research because I would like to create more lamps, or rather "lightning devices", in the near future in order to highlight all the potentialities of my materials." Tomatis loves to play with light, and it has a central role in his work. "As a material designer, I am very interested in transparency and opalescence, which means how my materials and products react and interpret the light. I’ve noticed that some of my materials have a really interesting reaction to the light. So I plan to design lighting devices made with these new materials that are 100% composed of seaweeds. These light compositions would reveal all the diversity of my materials: opacity and transparency, shades of different colours and textures."
While Tomatis may have started from an artisanal approach, the work has the potential for industrial production. Having won the 2017 Agora Grant (worth €15,000), Tomatis has been collaborating with chemistry researchers to learn more about the intrinsic composition of seaweed and develop new materials made from algae. "The aim is to find ways to transform seaweed as optimally as possible for industrial processes."