Pollution-Eating Bikini

A new 3D-printed bikini will enable wearers to clean the ocean of contaminants while they swim.

Developed by engineers at the University of California, Riverside, the suit consists of a highly porous and water-repellant super-material that absorbs and retains toxins. The team calls it “Sponge” technology.

“We designed a swimwear that is environmentally proactive, economically sustainable, and intelligently manufactured communing cutting-edge 3D printing and nano-scale clean-tech material research,” said the developers. “SpongeSuit aims to transform the swimming experience into an eco-friendly activity, by helping clean seas while swimming, one stroke at a time.”

When research on Sponge material began four years ago, the team hoped to apply its detoxifying capacities to oil spills and water desalinization. Further down the line, they envisioned that it might even be used to paint airplanes and satellites.

The project took off when partners at Eray Carbajo, an architecture and design firm based in New York City and Istanbul, suggested that the material be incorporated into wearable products.

The firm created a 3D-printed elastomer frame that serves as the body of the swimsuit, into which removable Sponge pads can be inserted. After about 20 uses, the wearer can simply replace pads with fresh inserts and deposit the used material at a facility similar to a dry cleaner. The developers hope that in the future, these facilities will remove contaminants and recycle the used material.

Sponge material is immensely effective, absorbing more than 25 times its weight in toxins and posing no risk to the individual who wears it. Because it is derived from heated sugar, the cost of production per-gram tallies up to an incredibly economically feasible 15 cents.

In fact, the suit nabbed first place in the 2015 Reshape wearable technology competition, which honors market-viable products that represent the synergy of fabrication and technology.

Though it only currently takes the shape of a bikini from the 3D-printed future, Sponge technology can be applied to a myriad of other forms of clothing for women and men alike.

“We aim for a future where anyone, with any shape and form, can contribute to the cleanliness of the seas by a sports activity or simply a leisurely summer vacation,” the developers said.

What can one suit really do against the pollution of an entire ocean? Probably not very much. But if planet-wide pollution results from the culmination of each individual’s actions, so, too, can large-scale positive change.

SpongeSuit empowers consumers by entrusting them with this responsibility to the environment, representing an important step towards creating a more eco-conscious future for textiles.

Feature photo by Jay Mantri.