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ASU professor looking to combat climate change with carbon-negative materials

Algae raincoat McCurdy
Posted at 4:22 PM, May 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-04 22:39:56-04

A passion for climate change drove Charlotte McCurdy to look for a tangible idea that would be vivid and real, for people to understand.

“It was really important for me to craft an artifact that lived in this future where we’ve decarbonized everything,” said Charlotte McCurdy, professor of industrial design at Arizona State University.

A big focus of it is on plastics.

McCurdy says, “Right now, a majority of our plastics are made from petrochemicals,” like petroleum, natural gas and coal, our planet’s fossil fuels.

“What if instead of making them out of ancient life we make them out of things right now?“ said McCurdy.

She decided to dive into the world of fashion. Knowing sustainability was a real challenge for the industry, McCurdy looked to create a carbon-negative material, which lead her to work with algae.

“Algae is one of the most efficient organisms at converting solar energy into useful molecules,” said McCurdy.

After a year of research, failed experiments and prototyping, McCurdy finally had a pattern that worked.

“It was important to me not to end with a swatch to a finished product that people could image as part of their own lives,” said McCurdy.

The final product is a raincoat made of algae. But why a raincoat?

“I wanted to highlight the ways in which climate change is already here in terms of extreme weather and it is already impacting lives,” said McCurdy.

The coats are craft-based, handmade and take about a month to create. So, mass production of them for consumers isn’t quite there yet. But the algae raincoat caught the attention of fashion designers.

“That resulted in collaborating on a dress that’s covered in seaweed sequins,” said McCurdy.

McCurdy is taking sustainability to the next level by exploring alternative ways to use resources while fighting climate change one step at a time.

“Biomasses represent a way we can start to sequester carbon through regenerative practices and active fix of climate change and not just doing less bad,” said McCurdy.