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New technology transforms bark from waste material to new building materials

umbraco.MacroEngines.DynamicXml Från vänster: Karin Jangert, Frida Bergner och Linus Carlsson framför den vakuumpress som använts under experiment med näver. Foto: Eva J:son Lönn

Unique experiments with compression molding of birch bark contribute to the development of new materials in architecture, design and building. The experiments are part of +Project, a multidisciplinary innovation project at Sliperiet.

Birch bark, which is a renewable and versatile material, is currently regarded as a waste product in the forest and wood industry. This is something the researchers in + Project, Umeå University want to change. They have therfore initiated unique experiments with compression molding, where traditional bark craft meets modern manufacturing techniques.

Karin Jangert, woodworker and "wood geek"; Frida Bergner, Architecture student, and Linus Carlsson, volunteer in FabLab Umeå are leading the experiments. The trio complement each other:

 - Frida har design and material knowledge. Linus adds knowledge of laser technology, 3D cad and design, and I have knowledge of wood processing, furniture manifacturing, and some knowledge of traditional bark craft, says Karin Jangert.

The group breaks new ground by combining traditional skills with modern methods of compression molding, something very unusual in traditional bark craft. So far, they have carried out 40 different experiments, which has led to several exciting discoveries:

- We have seen how different compression molding techniques influence the material differently depending on time, speed and pressure. We have also varied the water temperature, used to soak the bark before the molding. It was fun to see that when we laid strips of bark in water they became elastic like rubber bands. That´s where our idea of compression molding of bark started, says Linus Carlsson.

- When we used high and slow pressure, and a little heat, the bark became sturdy and at the same time soft and gentle as leather. It surprised me, says Frida Bergner.

Bark challenges and fascinates

Due to the complexity of the bark, it is an extremely versatile and sometimes challenging material.

- There is a big difference between different pieces of bark. They may be thin or thick and have short or long lenticelles (bark pores). The material is also very light, water repellent and has anti-fouling properties. It becomes soft and elastic when heated. If it is cooled down, the material retains the shape. In addition, bark contains a wax, which, when heat, pressure and water are added, becomes like a natural glue, says Frida Bergner.

View the prototypes at +Project´s Expo

What new, future uses do you think there will be for bark in living environments?

- Bark can be used in wall panels and for shielding of rooms. With the compression molding it is possible to make the sound bounce in different ways. Bark that has traditionally been used to protect buildings against rain and soil moisture may also be useful in other contexts where water repellent surface material is required, says Karin Jangert.

When the trio is done with the experiments, they will use their newly acquired knowledge to produce material samples for a future wall panel and also design and construct a chair. The prototypes will be featured at + Project´s Expo, which takes place on May 30 - August 31 at Sliperiet, Umeå University's Innovation and Collaboration hub at Arts Campus.

/Eva J:son Lönn



For questions about compression molding of birch bark
Karin Jangert, Woodworker
+46 (0)730-269231 | karin.jangert@gmail.com

For questions about +Project

Åke Fransson, Project manager
+46 (0)70-584 50 33 | ake.fransson@umu.se

For press relations
Eva J:son Lönn, Communication officer, Sliperiet
46 (0)730-64 77 50 | eva.j.lonn@umu.se