New Student-Built Machine Converts Plant Waste to Natural Pigments

Imperial College London student Nicole Stjernswärd created KAIKU Living Color, a color-making machine that transforms the dyes in plant waste into paintable pigments. Photo courtesy of Nicole Stjernswärd/Imperial College London.

Nicole Stjernswärd, a graduate student at Imperial College London (London, United Kingdom), has created KAIKU Living Color, a machine that uses plant dyes to create natural powder pigments that can be used for paints, inks, and textiles, among other applications.

In a video on Stjernswärd’s website, she demonstrates how KAIKU works; dyes are boiled from natural waste, such as fruit and vegetable skins and peels; the liquid dyes are strained and then fed into the machine’s reservoirs; the machine extracts the dye and feeds it into an atomizing chamber that separates the liquid from solid; the liquid is converted into a mist that sprays above 100 °C (212 °F), causing it to vaporize and resulting in custom-colored powder pigments that provide a sustainable alternative to those produced by the petrochemical industry.

According to Imperial, Stjernswärd’s inspiration for the KAIKU project began with oil paints, which used to be produced via natural, rather than synthetic, processes. Stjernswärd met with textile designers who expressed an interest in natural dyes that wouldn’t decompose quickly. With that in mind, she says she developed a machine that “uses existing, old knowledge that people might have forgotten about, incorporating new technologies.”

The “existing, old knowledge” refers to relying on plants and minerals as a source of pigment—which they had been prior to the modern era of industrialization—while “new technologies” makes natural dyes easier to use and longer lasting.

Stjernswärd designed and developed KAIKU while enrolled in the Innovation Design Engineering Master’s course, which is offered jointly by Imperial and the Royal College of Art (London, United Kingdom). She says that this study allowed her to “access specialists in the field and experts on both sides” and she hopes to continue her interdisciplinary work after graduation.

Source: Imperial College London,