Project Overview  

The overview is also available as a pdf booklet: click here

My initial research explored agricultural by-products. The idea was to give farmers the ability, not only to farm food, but also to farm products.  I desired to create some form of local production, which would be beneficial to both the environment, and the economy.

This research led me to an abattoir where I encountered a strange, yet wonderful, opportunity to use waste cow bones. 

Abattoirs would previously get paid for their leftover bovine bones.  However due to the feed ban imposed during the BSE crisis, this is no longer the case.  An abattoir in Inverurie has to pay £1600 every day to have their bones incinerated.  Around 3 million tonnes of bones are incinerated every year in Europe, despite the majority of them being classified as ‘fit for human consumption’.  This disposal method has a detrimental effect on both the environment, and Britain’s rural economy.

The bone project was all about discovering ways to use this waste material. Research was divided between three different areas: perception, properties and fabrication.

Perception:  Could bone be made as acceptable as red meat or leather?

Properties: Does bone possess any useful; structural, chemical or electrical properties?

Fabrication: How are bones currently disposed of? Could they be used for high volume applications?

It soon became apparent that bone was not immediately suitable for mass product design. Further work and research would be required to integrate it fully into society.  Therefore a range of scenarios were created, and sources of further funding were identified.  As a collection they demonstrate how bone could become a mainstream material for product applications.

  1.0 BoneIvory  

In this scenario, arts funding will be utilized to change the way bone is perceived; to make it desirable and valuable.  This can be achieved through creating bespoke objects which present bone as a ‘sustainable ivory’.  The goal is to make bone as acceptable as leather.

  2.0 BoneLAB  

Bone possesses unique chemical properties.  Existing research proposes that ground bone can be used to remediate soil contaminated with heavy metals.  However, it should be possible to use whole bone to absorb the toxins released by electronic products, and batteries, upon their disposal.


  3.0 BoneEngineer  

This scenario explores two high volume applications for bone:

Bone: Smart Material
Using crushed bone to make a new composite material.  This would utilize the remediation properties of bone explored in BoneLAB, to create housings for toxic electronic products.

Bone: Laminate
Laminating sections of whole bone, to form large structural panels or tiles.  This application would rely on bone becoming socially acceptable and desirable.





  Research Highlights  

Research was divided between three different areas: perception, properties and fabrication. 

Perception: This section explored the social issues surrounding the use of bone, and ways to remove its associated stigma.

Properties: Extensive research was conducted into the structural, electrical and chemical properties of bone.  The aim was to find a niche application for the material.

Fabrication: This section documented the existing supply and disposal chain for bovine bone. It then looked at ways to exploit this surplus material for high volume applications.


Can bone be made desirable and valuable?


Hoax Bone Products: How comfortable would people feel owning objects made from bone?  Bone products were digitally mocked up and posted on forums throughout the internet.  The response was largely negative, despite the environmental benefits of using the material.


Bone Abstraction: Using bone in its unprocessed, natural state was unpopular.  To work around this, samples of bone were modified to varying degrees to determine when they became socially acceptable.


The Bone Workshop: Jewellers are experts at adding value to materials, and reframing the way they are perceived.  A competition was organised among the jewellery students at Dundee University, challenging them to create bespoke objects from bone.

Does bone possess any unique properties?

Structural Testing: Investigating if bone, in its raw state or when infiltrated with liquid polymers, could be used for structural applications. However, the properties of different bones were too inconsistent to be practical..


Electrical Properties: Bone has piezoelectric properties. Tests were conducted to determine if the material could be used for touch-pads or sensors. Unfortunately, the properties were too weak for this application.


Chemistry Experiments: Existing research papers prove that ground bonemeal can be used to ‘neutralise’ metal toxins from contaminated soils. However, it could be possible to use whole bone to contain toxins.  This concept was sent to a number of experts currently conducting research on ground bone. They agreed that it was theoretically possible; however, they were unaware of any existing research on the subject. Tests were then performed with the help of the chemistry department at Dundee University, to test the concept.

Can bone be used for high volume applications?

Mapping: Documenting existing and future disposal process for the material


Sintering: Tests were conducted using a kiln to see if ground bone could be fused at high temperatures and pressure.

  Bone Laminate: Machining bone and fusing it into large flat panels.  
Copyright Andrew Ross 2008