This is Copper
There is a problem within sustainable fuel industries whereby the main two factors that tend to effect change within them is either economic incentive or public perception. The difficulty is which one is the most relevant influence? Studio ThusThat believes in the latter. For this second project by the studio the power of “designers to demonstrate, spark imagination and create a new material narrative”, will ultimately shift public perception and create a market pull for change within industry.
This is Copper showcases StudioThusThat’s ability to use research and experimentation to develop an outcome that shifts waste into want. The project both exposes and proposes potential uses for the overlooked by-product of copper production. In particular, looking into the use of slag-based geopolymers.
The term geopolymer was coined in 1979 by the French material scientist Josef Davidovitz, and is used to describe a 3D molecular structure formed of inorganic compounds. Or in other words a geopolymer is a cross between a stone and a plastic. Its molecular structure means that it can withstand shock and highly compressive strength, is resistant to acid, has hydraulic stability, but perhaps most positively, it emits no CO2.
The incentive for ThusThat to work with copper’s by-products stems from the fact that copper itself is used widely in the creation of renewable energy; for instance, the average wind turbine requires 5 tonnes of copper and for every 1 km of railway track there is 10 tonnes of copper cabling. It is then no wonder that society is still outpacing the rate at which it can recycle copper resulting in a continued need to mine for it. However, the slag-based geopolymer produced by the processes involved in copper mining and recycling requires little to no additional work to unlock its benefits. The material is then ready to be utilized.
While working on This is Copper, ThusThat recognized and experimented with all of the benefits of the slag-based geopolymer produced during the copper mining process. After Red Mud, this time they did a full-on collaboration with professor Yiannis Pontikes and the SREMat research group. At the beginning of the project and for eight weeks at the end of 2019, the studio went to the KU Leuven University and worked with them and Metallo, a recycling and refining copper company in Beerse. The aim of the stay was to collaborate with the company to create an outcome that showed the broader value of copper waste, showcasing the materials backstory and revealing its potential. ThusThat became the alien designers within Metallo’s lab of scientists.
The importance of pigments within This is Copper derives from the simple observation that “scientists might not care so much about colour but for designers this is important”. It is due to this difference in approach that ThusThat is able to, through design, provide a shifted perspective on a material that was previously unexplored in this way. The studio worked from scientific recipes in research papers to create recipes for colour. It reinvigorated old techniques, adjusted formulas and manipulated methods to turn “a gross greenish brown into a beautiful sparkly black”. Working with various aggregates in the same way a potter works with different glazes.
The resulting objects are the physical outcomes of ThusThat’s holistic investigation into the aesthetic qualities of slag-based geopolymers. ThusThat has used design to shift the public’s perception on how waste material can be used. It is mindfully displaying outcomes that tell the material’s story by linking the various stages of its creation into one narrative. The value that these objects have in both a scientific and aesthetics sense provoke onlookers to think about new uses for a material otherwise hidden under a label of ‘waste’.
ThusThat’s waste-not-want-not mantra reveals the invisible potentials of copper’s shiny black waste.
By Emma Singleton