Globally renowned creator and supplier of realistic artificial green walls, Vistafolia, has launched a pioneering collaboration with the University of Surrey to create a new base polymer, the material that their artificial plants are made from, using renewable sources, while maintaining the established safety and design standards of its market-leading product.
Co-funded by Innovate UK, as part of the wider Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme and by Vistafolia as part of their wider investment, this KTP project will see Vistafolia’s own research and development team working with two KTP Associates, Dr Elham Ketabchi and Dr Filip Ambroz, who, with the support of Dr Sadhukhan, Dr Roth and Dr Mohagheghian from the University of Surrey will transfer and embed their existing knowledge in biomass processing and materials science respectively, to enable Vistafolia to become the first and only artificial plant manufacturer to move towards a bio-based polymer.
The naturalistic green wall panels are currently produced to directly replicate the organic movement and texture of living walls, with each bespoke design being curated to fit the individual needs of the space and location, using a selection of shapes and hues to add colour and dimension. The new formulation will also replace the current fire-retardant additive with a more environmentally friendly version that will enhance the new product’s non-toxic and recyclable qualities, while also retaining a high standard of fire retardancy and UV stability.
Vistafolia’s existing product already offers an alternative to living green walls, removing the use of 189 litres of water per year (per sqm of green wall compared to living plants), as well as fertiliser and pesticide usage through its low maintenance solution, and the new product characterisation will build upon this to commit Vistafolia to sustainable future biopolymer, a first in the industry. Bio-based polymers, or biopolymers, are natural materials created using living organism cells, such as biomass, food waste, or used cooking oil, and produce virtually no carbon footprint when compared with petro-carbon resins.
Proposed sustainability properties of the new bio-polyethylene product include:
· Saving 70 tonnes of petroleum-based plastic being used in production per year by Vistafolia with the new bio-polymer formulation.
· Net carbon-neutrality when manufacturing Vistafolia’s products with the bio-polyethylene material.
British innovation is a core part of the company’s roots, and the KTP further cements their support of the sector. The Knowledge Transfer Partnership programme is a UK scheme that brings together academics with businesses to propel industry advancement and create competitive advantages, using researcher knowledge to assist in the development of new products or projects for companies.
Paul Alder, managing director of Vistafolia, said: “We are incredibly excited to be working with the University of Surrey on this revolutionary research project, uniting meticulous design with pioneering science to accelerate the creation of a more sustainable product offering for our clients. The UK government has backed this project which is a great achievement for Vistafolia and the university as they are confident that we can produce this new, innovative product. Not only will the project increase our own innovation efforts, but the partnership will strengthen our positioning as a UK-led global business within the competitive artificial plant market. We hope to drive sustainability in the sector and encourage our competitors to focus on sustainability as a key issue while pushing the environmental boundaries in R&D and production.”
Dr Jhuma Sadhukhan, Reader of the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability, said: “The University of Surrey is very proud to enter into this partnership with Vistafolia on this ground-breaking project. We have two outstanding knowledge transfer partnership associates who are leading the project and making very good progress with the novel formulation process synthesis and the product development. In spite of the various difficulties, I strongly believe we’ll be able to achieve novel formulations for biopolymers within the timescale to address a number of global challenges, not just the company’s own problem, and we are very keen to have recyclable plastics in place.”
Dr Matt Hogan, Knowledge Transfer Advisor said: “This Knowledge Transfer Partnership is a great example of how an ambitious SME can unlock new commercial opportunities by accessing the latest academic thinking at the University of Surrey. As a result of the KTP, Vistafolia will become an R&D-led business, developing and launching innovative and sustainable new products.”