This Obsidian Mirror Was Once Toxic Chemical Waste

This Obsidian Mirror Was Once Toxic Chemical Waste
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There are plenty of ways to deal with chemical waste, like shipping it across the ocean. Or, you could use plasma gasification — a Back to the Future-style process that “recreates the conditions inside a volcano” to incinerate waste. One byproduct of the process? A glassy synthetic obsidian.

As part of a show at this month’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in Milan, Studio Drift — aka Dutch artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta — used plasma gasification to create a standing mirror made out of the waste product that comes from the process: Obsidian.

The technology was invented in the 1970s, but it’s slowly gaining traction in Asia and, slowly, in the US “With an emission of just 0.1 per cent, this method is the most safe and clean way of recycling raw chemical materials in the world,” Studio Drift explains.

So, how does it work? Well, as How Stuff Works explains, it’s pretty much the closest thing we have to Doc Brown’s Mr. Fusion machine in Back to the Future. But there’s a more technical explanation too. As its name suggests, plasma gasification uses a torch of plasma — essentially, a gas and powerful electrodes — to incinerate an incredible spectrum of waste: chemical, medical, inorganic, organic. It seems as though the only thing it can’t break down is nuclear waste.

As the torch breaks down the basic chemical composition of the materials, they release gas that can be contained as it cools, and used for fuel. The process also produces some ash — which, if it’s reheated, vitrifies, “restructuring the molecules into the homogenous, stable and beautiful black glass that is synthetic obsidian.”

So there you have it. From toxic waste comes a beautiful black stone, with barely any emissions at all. Studio Drift’s project is a great little illustration of the technology — but more than anything, it makes me wonder why this is the first time I’m hearing of this technology. Anyone else? [Studio Drift; Dezeen]