Material innovation

Superwood – material with a future

In fashion, fast fashion is no longer in vogue and the furniture industry is also looking for sustainable and durable solutions for its products. In cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, designer Sofia Souidi has now developed Superwood – a material that consists of recycled components and is recyclable itself. 

Jul 05 2022

Sustainable alternative for furniture construction 

Normally, medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is used for the production of cabinets, tables or other pieces of furniture. These boards have the advantage that temperature fluctuations do not affect their stability and shape. They do not warp. Thanks to their homogeneous structure, they are also very easy to glue and paint. Ideal when things have to move fast. 

A new, sustainable approach is being pursued by the research project of designer Sofia Souidi, former participant in the imm cologne's Pure Talents Contest, in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research.  

The team has developed the so-called "Superwood": A material that uses the advantages of MDF boards but does without petrochemical binders. Instead, the project team used glue made from casein (milk protein), which was already used in ancient times as an adhesive for furniture and boat construction.

Due to strict hygiene regulations, around two million litres of milk are disposed of in Germany every year. Casein can be obtained from this actual waste product of the food industry. Thus, the casein binder can be produced from an existing waste product without food competition. 

One aim of the cooperation between the designer and the research team was to use recycled wood fibres from waste wood to develop a material that is itself fully recyclable. In addition, the admixture of differently coloured forest and production waste was tested.  

We spoke to designer Sofia Souidi about the new material Superwood and the trend towards more sustainability in the furniture industry. 

Superwood is a new fibreboard material created for the furniture industry, It consists of recycled wood fibres mixed with a historic glue made from lactic acid and pressed into panels © Studio Sofia Souidi

In 2019, you have already started experimenting in the field of sustainable, innovative material technologies. How exactly did the collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research come about?  

In 2019, I started using techniques from letterpress printing to press wood fibres in my small workshop. In doing so, I came to the limits of the technical implementation, as the fibres were not pressed together tightly enough and so the surfaces became heterogeneous.

Because of an earlier university excursion to another Fraunhofer Institute, I had the idea to contact the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research. The first sample boards were created in their technical centre to research the combination between casein glue and wood fibres. Subsequently, I received an Artist in Lab grant there to further develop the material. 

You are concerned with sustainability – the developed material Superwood is supposed to be durable and conserve resources. But as a designer, you also have a certain demand on the aesthetics of an object. Does appearance play a role for you in material innovations? 

Superwood consists of waste from the wood industry that is pressed into boards with an ecological binder – this character distinguishes the material and should therefore also be conveyed visually. With an experimental, playful approach, we shift the visual expectation of recycled materials, explore the visual qualities of wood fibres and production waste. 

Whether monochrome, marbled, with graphic elements or terrazzo-like structures – Superwood offers a wide range of design options © Studio Sofia Souidi

Sustainability is on everyone's lips – not only in the furniture industry. How do you perceive the development in terms of resource-saving use of materials in the furniture industry?  

Furniture consumption and thus wood consumption per person is increasing rapidly every year. As a result, masses of bulky waste have to be disposed of or recycled. The fewer pollutants wood contains, the easier it is to recycle. However, many pieces of furniture are varnished or glued with binders containing formaldehyde. They therefore contain pollutants and cannot be recycled.

Through various regulations of these pollutants, there is a trend towards sustainable materials – but the road to real applications is still long. The market is still determined by price. I think it requires the courage of companies to really implement sustainability. 

Born in Kassel, Germany, product designer Sofia Souidi founded her design studio in Berlin in 2017 after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London. Her work focuses on sustainability and ranges from material research and development to the design of contemporary furniture and lighting.  In 2020 she won 3rd place in the Pure Talents Contest with the "Jojo" lamp. © Ivo Hofsté

Author: Bernadette Trepte

Comments (1)
Portrait of Øivind Alexander Slaatto
Øivind Alexander Slaatto
16:15 | 06.07.2022
Brilliant - and very interesting! Is it possible to shape the material in 3D (double curved) surfaces as well? Best regards Øivind (SLAATTO DESIGN)