If you have a passion for surfaces and sustainable materials, then Alusid is a brand that should definitely be on your radar.
Proudly making beautiful sustainable surfaces and cladding from no less than 98% recycled materials at its factory in Preston, Alusid has already won a wealth of industry awards and is currently looking to expand its business significantly over the next 18 months.
With a new website launched and a new product range featured at this week's Surface Design Show, we spoke with one of its founders, Dr Alasdair Bremner, who originally trained in Ceramics at the Glasgow School of Art and went on to be awarded his PhD in The Creative Applications of Refractory Concrete at the University of Central Lancashire in 2008.
We chatted about his venture's incredible history, their achievements so far and how they see the future of sustainability in the architecture and design community.
It's a great story, how did it all begin?
It was born out of a project at the University of Central Lancashire working with Professor David Binns called The Aesthetic of Waste, which considered the possibilities of low-value materials destined for landfill and whether they could be transformed into beautiful, high-end products for the architectural and interior market.
We were later granted funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which helped to turn our idea into a reality and a venture.
What made the subsequent products so special?
It was partly driven by the products we were using and the process we had. We were trying to find materials, in the first instance, that were readily available with plenty of supply. And they were reasonably standard, so they wouldn't change over time. It combats one of the major problems manufacturers face, which is the availability of supplies.
There are a lot of products out there that use recycled materials but combine them with resins or plastic binders. We didn't want to go down that route for a couple of reasons, partly because it would reduce the percentage of recycled content, resins are expensive and there's no interaction with how the material ends up. You just cast it and it ends up the way it is. Nothing changes.
Whereas our process uses heat and produces some interesting results. We fire the product in a kiln and that means all the materials interact with one another to produce some unique surfaces and designs.
What types of "readily available" materials are we talking about?
We have two main components. One is recycled glass. Usually, post-consumer glass. It could be bottles, windows, car windscreens – all manner of different sources. There is actually a huge amount of glass available in the UK, partly as a result of our imbalance in what we export product-wise and what we import... wine, beer and everything else.
The other product we use is recycled porcelain, which is sanitaryware – as in baths, toilets and sinks – that comes directly from factory waste.
That's incredible. Your process is also very considerate too. Tell us more
Yes, we use no chemicals or resin binders and the manufacturing process produces zero waste. This means that while we hope our products will be used and enjoyed for many decades when they come to the end of their useful life they themselves can be recycled within our process.
What about the final product offering? What's available?
We have a few options. We produce SilicaStone tiles in a range of colours and textures. And we create SilicaStone Glazed, our newest surfaces that use our own formulation of recycled glazes and specialist low-temperature ceramic glazes.
Strata is our first and most versatile SilicaStone product, designed for interior and exterior applications. It's manufactured in two standard thicknesses, 12mm and 15mm, which are mixed to create subtle and dynamic effects. It's available in nine colours, allowing panels to be a single colour or have variations of tone.
Incline is our latest bonded surface product. Designed mainly for larger projects, its combination of large format and smaller angular tiles create a dramatic yet subtle surface. Weave is an exciting modular product that adds drama and texture to feature walls.
As well as our standard tiles, we are also able to produce surfaces for larger projects or pieces of furniture with our Solid Surface offering.
How has the A&D community reacted to the products?
We've had a lot of interest. We've already worked with some big names. Four Seasons, Nando's. We did a large project in Monaco for a restaurant. We've just completed a project for Amazon in Luxembourg. An office in London. I suppose the reception has been very positive.
We have limited capacity at the moment. Our facilities are designed to handle batch projects, as opposed to large-scale production. That's something we're hoping to change in the next eighteen months, producing our products on a more industrial scale. But we still want to retain its unique character.
You were obviously inspired to do something different. What sparked you to take action?
The amount of ceramic waste that the industry produces is considerable. We felt that with so much ending up in landfill, we wanted to do something about it. It also makes complete economic sense for us – the materials are readily available and cheap. Like with anything in business, there has to be an incentive.
But we couldn't just produce anything. We had to create aesthetically-pleasing surfaces. It's all very well making recycled products, it still has to be something designers want – to tick the number one box of whether it's beautiful to look at. But also whether it's sustainable and durable... that it will go the distance.
Your products can be recycled again, then?
Well, yes. Our products have no end of life. Anything we produce can go back into our process and create something new. Glass, for instance, is one of the materials that is infinitely recyclable – the more times you melt it, the quality never reduces over time. From that point of view, it's the ideal material.
If more products and materials could be made from glass and ceramics, as opposed to plastics, that would be the ideal solution for the longevity of our planet.
Any new products that you can talk about?
Silicastone Tints is a brand new collection of handmade glazed wall tiles, featuring a palette of six organic colours. Because of our unique manufacturing process, every tile is individual, varying slightly in both colour and texture. We'll have samples on display at this week's Surface Design Show. Pop along to Stand 140 and see what we have to offer.
To find out more about Alusid and the products it has on offer, visit www.alusid.co.uk. Special thanks to Dr Alasdair Bremner for the interview.