Interview: Australian firm Zeoform invents a revolutionary new eco product that may transform manufacturing

Imagine if your cereal bowl, car dashboard, dining chair, light fixture, or even your guitar was made from waste paper and water. Sounds far fetched?  Australian innovators Zeoform have just released a new product that may revolutionise all sorts of manufacture in the future.

They have extracted pure cellulose from recycled and reclaimed papers, industrial hemp, discarded natural fabrics, waste and renewable plants to create a strong flexible material called Zeoform.  According to director Tom Rivers, it can be sprayed, moulded or formed into all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours and variations. Hold onto your hats ladies and gents – Could this be the future eco alternative to plastic??

Tom Rivers has grand visions for Zeoform (see interview below), and why wouldn’t he! Zeoform has incredible potential, but needs industry to get behind the product and test it in their own manufacturing. To take the next step is no mean feat, and Zeoform are looking to raise $1million dollars to kickstart the creation of a Centre of Excellence through crowd sourcing campaign “Join the Zeoform Revolution“.  The campaign runs from October 11 through to November 10, 2013.

We spoke at length to Tom Rivers about the Zeoform product – Read all about it below, and if you want to be behind the next big thing throw your support behind the team!

1.  Zeoform is a potentially revolutionary product for future product design. What sparked the idea?  Papier mache has been used for centuries to make home wares, buildings and bridges, some of which are still standing today. Inspired by papier mache, Zeo set out to make a strong, natural material without the use of traditional glues and binders.
2.  How long has it taken you to bring Zeoform to a marketable product stage?  Zeo IP was formed in 2009. Several years were spent manufacturing artisan products before restructuring and re-focusing into a raw material company. Transforming the material into a distributable form took another couple of years and brings us up to current time.

3. How can Zeoform be applied by various industries?Are there any limits as to how Zeoform can be used in manufacturing? (Ie Outdoor use versus indoor use? Longevity?)  Where to begin..! Because Zeoform starts as a pulp, it has the ability to be formed into many different 3D shapes and sizes to replace plastic, fibreglass, wood and wood composite products. Traditional manufacturing sees starting blocks of materials (like wood) whittled down to a final product, but Zeoform uses an additive process where the material is built up into a final product avoiding waste whilst using less energy – the same concept as 3D printing.

Zeoform cannot currently be injection moulded so we have developed a compression moulding technology to create, small, dense, finely detailed components. The Zeoform material is not suitable for the extrusion process either.
Zeoform can be pressed into dense, flat panels which can be used for…well anything flat! The world of flat-pack homewares, furniture and building interiors beckon. Flat Zeoform panels are workable in the same way as wood and wood composite panels – they can be cut, drilled, milled, routed, screwed, glued and polished. We also see these panels, and other products, being used outside for deckings, furniture, garden stuff and even building (although pure Zeoform is not yet waterproof). There are currently many coatings out there that will take Zeoform from water resistant to waterproof and many claim to be as eco-friendly as Zeoform itself. It’s only a matter of time before someone in a white lab coat submits a sample of the ultimate eco coating that protects and yet, still biodegrades in soil.

Emma, our resident chemist, has identified how to waterproof Zeoform products in a way that is consistent with the ZEO values – safe, natural, sustainable – and these will be properly tested after One In A Million.

4.  What challenges have you faced bringing Zeoform to market? The normal challenges that any start-up company has, I guess.  Number one excuse, that is wearing pretty thin now, but Zeoform had just been set up when the GFC hit. Everyone was in the same boat which meant that everyone was keeping what they had left to themselves rather than taking a punt on a new start-up – no matter how good an opportunity it seemed, we still needed to prove and patent the Zeoform technology.

Reason number two: The world was happy to carry on using fossil fuels. We all had a good thing going with cheap oil and the products that everyone was using – plastic, fibreglass, wood, building materials – were coming down in price rapidly due to their popularity so why take up a brand new one?

Now that the global financial situation is improving and the price (in every sense of the word!) of fossil fuels and unsustainability is increasing, people are regaining their sustainable, ethical values and shifting towards green products.

We were formerly a products company producing boutique instruments and furniture items. We are now a materials company that want to see thousands of Zeoform molders and shapers, designers and manufacturers all making different things out of  Zeoform.

5.  Crystal ball gazing 12 months down the track, what is your dream for Zeoform?

The Zeoform Centre of Excellence funded through the One In A Million CrowdFunding campaign is kicking goals and has resulted in 7 more CoEs being commissioned – USA, Brazil, Japan, Germany, South Africa, India and China. These centres will be industry hubs for people to come and learn how to use Zeoform so that they can take the technology and make it their own as well as acting as an information exchange to further the technology.

Although patented, the Zeoform technology will be open source and available to everyone; it will create a community of Zeoform Revolutionaries pushing all the boundaries. We have seen this happen with software companies like WordPress and Cisco and we are seeing it happen with new 3D printing software. But physical material open sourcing like this hasn’t really been seen since Henry Ford in 1911!

Open source and the sharing economy are changing the way the world works. The more ideas and technology that are open to the world the faster the technology can advance, which is particularly important in the case of renewable energy, eco materials and sustainable foods.

And, of course, the Holy Grail for Zeoform is to perfect sustainable 3D printing.

~~ Join the Zeoform revolution ~~

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