2018/3 design magazine

Get inspired by the latest innovations, such as Kneesup, aluminium or carbon bike frames, sustainable lego, Aflac duck and bee hospital.

Carbon bike frame, a guilty pleasure?

More and more people choose to walk the green path: greener energy, eco friendly products, bio degradable materials, closed loops, recycling, up-cycling… and cycling. But when choosing your frame, what would be the best in terms of sustainability: aluminium or carbon fibre?

The obvious answer many people would give is that aluminium is more sustainable then carbon fibre. But is that true?
So let’s try to separate the environmental fact from fiction. Richard Cunningham from Pinkbike did research and we did research as well about carbon versus aluminum frames. Will your frame end up as ocean fill? Is carbon fiber poisonous to work with?

“If your bike is made from metal, it came from a big hole in the ground. If it is carbon, it came out of an oil well”.
Every part of the bike came out of a hole somewhere on earth. If your bicycle frame is made of carbon, that hole is 30 to 70 cm wide and oil comes out of it. If it is aluminum, well, those holes can be seen from space. But, the journey only begins there. There are emissions created by hauling the materials to where they are needed. Trans-continental pipelines, excavation equipment, trains, long-haul trucks, cargo ships, and oil tankers move raw materials to processing plants. Add in the pollution and energy draw of the foundries, refineries and chemical factories that turn raw materials into usable forms, and then realize that the places where metal, plastic, and carbon fiber are made are most likely on a different continent than where the bicycle was manufactured.

Aluminum is the poster child of metal recycling. Products crafted from the substance can be recycled, and re-melted to be used again. That’s the positive side. On the negative side, it takes an extraordinary amount of energy to produce aluminum. Bauxite is strip mined in equatorial zones where entire species are being wiped out on a regular basis. Aluminum production alone produces one percent of the planet’s man-made greenhouse gasses.

Carbon fibers basically originate from crude oil that has been manufactured into acrylic fibers. The ultra-fine fibers are heated in oxygen free furnaces until all of the compounds in the fibers other than carbon have off-gassed. The fibers are then post-treated to encourage them to bond to the resins which will be applied later when they are molded into their final shape.

The energy used to make one carbon frame is about 35% of the energy that is used to manufacture an aluminium frame according to an LCA from Duke University (Rebecca Johnson).

Then there is fresh water usage. Both processes of making a frame from aluminium or from carbon fibre use water. About 2.300 liters of water are consumed when making one carbon fibre frame compared to approximately 1.600 liters to make one aluminium frame.

Bike manufacturers typically clip remnant carbon pieces into small squares and use them to reinforce hard-to-reach sections of their frames. The high cost of carbon, and the fact that the lay-up process affords many opportunities to use small, odd-shaped pieces is the constant that drives carbon frame makers to enforce frugality. Both world’s largest frame producers, like Giant in Taiwan, and a small wheel builder like Dustin Adams. “We make 125 rims a week,” says Adams. “And our total scrap rate is one plastic trash bag. Most of that is the paper backing we pull off the carbon.”

Rumors abound about exposure to toxic chemicals related to carbon production, but the majority of workers are at low risk. Some epoxy-type resins that are used for high-strength carbon composites react with human skin. Once mixed and embedded into the carbon those effects are mild, but they are accumulative. Prolonged exposure to skin can eventually cause hyper-sensitivity and allergic reactions. Plastic gloves are enough to protect workers, and help to prevent moisture, oils or grime from affecting the layup. Smaller manufacturers purchase their carbon pre-impregnated, which is quite safe to handle.

But what about recycling? Most carbon recyclers convert carbon into short “chopped fibers” by heating the composite material to burn off the epoxy matrix, which leaves raw carbon fiber. The resins assist the burning process. The fibers are sized and then sold to be used to reinforce molded plastic (like you’d find in a pedal) or made into fibrous mats, which are used to manufacture structural panels and under-the hood bits for automakers.

Like cloth, wood, and paper products, each time carbon is recycled, the fibers become shorter and less useful for high-strength applications. Yet Hitachi Chemical / Japan Carbon Fibre Manufactures created a pyrolyse process without shredding, which gives very long fibres. This will make it possible to create bike frames from the wing of an Airbus for instance. Companies like CFK Valley Recycling, carboNXT and ELG Carbon Fibre are working hard to recycle large amounts of carbon fibres from aerospace and bring the recycled carbon to the automotive industry. And some companies like SHD Composites start to offer carbon fibres combined with a biobased resin.

So, which is better? When trying to look at the total environmental impact, then carbon might be considered a bit better then aluminium, also because it gives more possiblities for frame repair after a crash and frame remanufacturing. Aluminum construction has evolved to its pinnacle and offers little room for improvement. Carbon, however is relatively new to bike makers and has a long way to go before it could be considered a perfected process. Many new recycling technologies are in development and it seems that in the near future it will be possible to close the loop and to recycle carbon fibres from bike frames into new bike frames, potentially even with biobased resins.

Read more on Pinkbike

More backgrounds:
Getting it right from the start
The complete impact of bicycle use
Towards a circular economy for end-of-life carbon fibre composites materials via a fluidised bed process
Closing the CFRP lifecycle loop
Recycling composites in the automotive industry


This lightweight device is made of fabric, filled with air inside, not only cushioning the knee area but also making sure it doesn’t add any extra weight to the joint. Designed to not only protect and prevent the kneecap from early stage degenerative arthritis but also to help wearers monitor their stats.

Sustainable LEGO

LEGO botanical elements such as leaves, bushes and trees will be made from plant-based plastic sourced from sugarcane and will appear in LEGO boxes already in 2018. The new sustainable LEGO elements are made from a plant-based polyethylene, which is a soft, durable and flexible plastic, and while they are based on sugar-cane material, they are technically identical to those produced using conventional plastics.

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My Special Aflac Duck

My Special Aflac Duck is a robotic toy duck designed to help children diagnosed with cancer cope through their treatments. What’s truly remarkable is that My Special Aflac Duck comes with its own interactive kit, allowing the child to administer meds to the duck, similar to that of chemotherapy, lessening the anxiety around it.

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Human Media Lab plus LEGO

This system allows users to arrange elements into a shape of their choice upon a LEGO board which acts as a controller. This controller directs a fleet of mini-drones equipped with sensors and gyroscopes. The system is not currently offered as an actual LEGO product and is instead more a way of exploring the boundaries of what can be done with the combination of the play bricks and technology, especially with regards to education.

 ‘With this technology, we are able to simulate the physics of the natural world like gravity, planetary orbits, and more, giving children a chance to see what they have long learned from textbooks and two-dimensional depictions, in a real physical environment’ – according to the head of Human Media Lab.

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Bee Hospital

It is not a hospital called “Bee”, in fact, it’s a hospital for bees. Bees are disappearing, this can lead to a disastrous phenomenon that affects our food system and economy. Bee Hospital contains a set of objects that can be installed in urban area, each set consists of a mite guard dispenser, a supplement center, and a bee-detecting device.

For example the mites guard dispenser attaches a chemical to the bees, in order to kill the Varroa mite. The device is designed to use syrup, which is similar to flowers, to allure bees. The bees enter the device and are brushed with a chemical to kill mites.

Tools for Therapy

Nicolette Bodewes has created a tactile toolkit designed to be used in psychotherapy sessions. Tools for Therapy is intended as a “communication toolkit” that helps people in therapy express their thoughts.

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The new originals by Droog

“We have reached a level of saturation in design and in the market, that it’s time to think more intelligently about what to do with the surplus, and use it in the design process. We should take better advantage of our collective intelligence,” says Droog co-founder and director Renny Ramakers. “Imitation can also be inspiration.”

The Droog Design team went to “the epicentre of copycat culture” Shenzhen to copy, re-think and excise 26 objects. Great view from Droog at the copyright culture problem.

Vertical Walking

The awkwardly-named Vertical Walking contraption works like an elevator in that it operates in a vertical motion, but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of just pushing a button and then standing around until it reaches your floor, the Vertical Walking requires riders to manually propel themselves from floor to floor using their arms and legs.

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