Inside Neolith's Spanish Factory
It looks and feels very much like it’s dug up straight from a quarry, it comes in all kind of colours and sizes, and it remains a lifetime without stains. That pretty much sums up the most eye-catching advantages of sintered stone called Neolith made by a family business in Castellón, Spain. DAMNº went down there and got a look behind the scenes, ‘from powder to slabs’...
Neolith can be used in a wide variety of applications, from BBQ’s, over kitchens and furnishings in private houses, flooring and facades of hotels, to work-desks in kitchens of professional chefs. The latter interests us in particular, even more so because the chef’s choice is not just an aesthetic preference or a choice for a certain material, like it is the case for architects. Neolith is used in the kitchens of renowned chefs like Albert Adrià (ENIGMA, Spain), Paco Pérez (Miramar, Spain), Alessandro Borghese (Il lusso della semplicità, Italy), Italo Bassi (Confusion, Spain) and Holger Stromberg (KUTCHiiN, Germany).
The Enigma restaurant in Barcelona, a project by 2017 Pritzker prize winners RCR Architects, is entirely covered with tailor made Neolith (700m2 surface). RCR Architects created the pattern themselves and it took the company many months to develop the final design that satisfied both the architects and chef Albert Adrià. All parties involved found each other in the ambition to create something completely unique, out of the ordinary. And it stays unique: in the warehouse we spot Enigma slabs, but these are not for sale.
There is indeed a growing trend of restaurants using Neolith material instead of natural stone or synthetic materials, and not only in Michelin star kitchens. This is for instance the case in the Campus de Gastronomía y Management Culinario of GASMA, a private gastronomy university faculty, accommodated in a fabulous 150 years old historic finca in Valencia. Javier Pérez from GASMA tells us that the school decided to equip its kitchens with Neolith because “the technical properties of Neolith are better than those of the best quality marble and ceramic tiles. Stains don’t get a chance, it’s easy to clean and you don’t have to watch out to keep it in a good shape. You can even focus fire directly on it during flambéing; the work-desk won’t be affected.”
According to European law, natural stones can not be used in the kitchen, and then Neolith comes as a welcome alternative: “It is simple to clean, you don’t need powerful chemical cleaning products, which is good for the health of our students ánd the eaters. Cleaning also requires less time.” When it comes to hygiene, the size of the slabs is also important: “because the Neolith slabs are so large, there few grooves, so few chances dirt can get into them.” And even where GASMA had stainless steal in certain kitchens, they put Neolith on it. “Neolith material proves to be sometimes cheaper and sometimes more expensive than natural stone, but besides all the other advantages, it also always lasts longer and so in the end it’s the best choice for our school.” Tested and approved by about 200 students from almost 50 countries, and their teachers, among whom a couple of Michelin star chefs.
The story of Neolith started in 2009 when two brothers, who had spent their career at the natural stone company created by their father, started their own company. They understood that the waste of natural stone could be reused. They had the ambition to launch ‘an evolution of ceramic stone’ and called it ‘new stone’: Neolith. The base material of Neolith is powder of natural stone. To stay in the restaurant atmosphere: making the Neolith slabs much resembles cooking, where the secret of a fabulous meal lies not only in fresh top quality ingredients but also much into how they are prepared.
Composed of sand from various natural stones, and of quartz for strength, silica for stability, clay for elasticity and mineral oxides for the colour, the powder mix is pressed at 400BAR (20.000 tons\ slab; there is no water, heath or glue involved), it gets dried at 180ºC, then it’s printed and coloured. After all that, the slabs are ready to go in what is probably the longest oven in the world: a machine of approx. 250 meters long, fuelled by natural gas.
It’s here the magic happens: the baking process provokes a chemical reaction in the ceramic material and metals (by the way, this is also how magnets are made), through applying very high temperatures (up to 1200ºC) at certain moments in the process. Thus the material becomes extremely compact and resistant. The high pressure combined with temperature, aka ‘sintering’, results in the signature compacted material. Today’s total Neolith production is 5 million m2 per-year, or 1 million slabs. Neolith, which is 100% natural, can be recycled too, for instance to be used in roads as asphalt. Only good news from the stone kitchen!