The Fly-Ash Chair is a remedial response to our global energy dependence on coal and the fossil fuel industry.
Transferring LEED® certified building methods of construction to product design, this chair offers a functional, elegant solution through recycled coal waste. The honesty of material results in color and texture variations dependent on the diversity of chemical compounds in each ash sample, giving each chair a distinct, industrial character. Environmentally responsible in methodology and designed with longevity in mind, the sustainable nature of the material application is further amplified in its embodiment of our global waste accumulation.
Since 2000 coal-fired power capacity has doubled across the globe. The toxic nature of the coal energy production process extends beyond greenhouse gases and CO2 levels; it creates a lesser-known derivative called fly ash. One of the most abundant industrial byproducts on Earth, fly ash is typically “stored” in ash ponds where it is mixed with water frequently leading to groundwater contamination and environmental damage. The sheer abundance of fly ash and its chemical compounds have made it a suitable candidate for concrete mixtures in construction. In establishing geopolymer composition, fly ash induces a chemical reaction within the concrete mixture, resulting in not only neutralized toxicity but also exceptionally high tensile strength. In addition to surpassing the structural abilities of cement, fly ash concrete is cheaper, uses less water, cures faster, is less permeable, is corrosion resistant and alleviates the environmental consequences and greenhouse gas emissions of cement production.
Developing new functionality for fly ash in the product design industry and beyond allows designers to indirectly recycle the energy byproduct of the objects we manufacture, creating physical objects out of the fossil fuels that power our livelihood. It may seem counterintuitive to endorse a toxic byproduct of an environmentally damaging process as a sustainable material, but finding immediate solutions to the waste of current processes helps bridge the gap to when we hopefully won’t have any fly ash to use. The chair doesn’t validate the coal power industry but instead highlights the damaging nature of it. Each chair is a physical presence of this impact. The volume of ash in each chair is approximately the energy equivalent of a 100W lightbulb powered 24 hours a day for 115 days – a direct representation of the power production necessary to yield the fly ash for these chairs.
Photography with courtesy of Erica Stine