Tjeerd Veenhoven and his team's presentation for the Global Change Award.

Playing dress-up with algae

When the Global Change Award announced the winners of its first yearly €1 million grant, a Dutch project using algae to make eco-friendly renewable textile was among them. The team was led by Tjeerd Veenhoven, a product designer and inventor with a very special interest in the organisms – he predicts growing textiles under water will happen within the next years.

“Algae have inspired me for years. While many materials used for fashion leave some kind of environmental footprint, algae doesn’t. It doesn’t require freshwater or land to grow. In fact, using the excess of algae could help lakes and oceans from clogging.

Our quest is to create a new type of raw material to produce renewable textile. It’s probably the most visionary idea among the awardees at the Global Change Award, as it is still quite a long stretch to actually make a textile from algae. But I think it will happen in the coming years.

My research is focused on finding the best algae species, fine-tuning techniques to utilise its cellulose and fibers and of course, designing new textiles. I want to use all my talents to turn this sustainable commodity into a fashionable fabric, to dress the generations of the future.

One of the unfortunate side effects of water pollution is the explosive growth of algae in our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. This stinky green slurry loves all these high levels of phosphate and nitrogen caused by pollution, it is a nightmare for every coastal community. Just last week I read an article from the late sixties that already mentioned the sharp increase of phosphate pollution in the rivers and estuaries due to the rise of the fashion industry, and this is fifty years ago! You can imagine things have only worse. 

« We do not have to grow algae on our fields, chop down rainforest to increase a profit or use pesticides to optimise growth »

However, let us try and see the positive side: Algae are amazing organisms and strangely enough they will play an important role in the future of sustainable fashion, in my opinion an important role in the future of mankind even.

Let us look at a specific species like Cladophora. It absorbs our CO2, it grows mainly on the sun’s energy and is made from a strong cellulose fiber which we can actually use to produce textiles from! We do not have to grow it on our fields, chop down rainforest to increase a profit or use pesticides to optimise growth. This largely untapped resource is a true gift and if we can make textiles from its cellulose we do not have to use as much cotton, polyester or other blends of fabrics.”

Tjeerd Veenhoven, product designer and innovator
Visit Tjeerd Veenhoven’s design studio here

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