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Brief Published: 30 Jul 2020

Invasive Mussel Species Transformed into Glass

Zebra Glass

A team from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit is working to transform two invasive mussel species into an abundant regional material resource that could be harvested for artisanal and industrial glass and ceramic applications.

Zebra and quagga mussels are considered a biological threat and, since their introduction from Russia and Ukraine in the late 1980s, have caused severe disruption to the aquatic ecosystems of the USA’s Great Lakes. They reproduce and filter water at a rapid rate, overwhelming native species and removing almost all microscopic aquatic plants and animals (such as phytoplankton and zooplankton) from the water.

While many efforts to remediate these negative effects have been largely ineffective, the team hopes the Zebra Glass project will represent the mussels as a rich material opportunity.

The mussel shells are made of approximately 95% calcium carbonate – one of the three main ingredients in glassmaking. To turn into a suitable substance, the shells are boiled and cleaned to remove excess organic matter, then ground down into a powder ready for use.

Colourant can also be obtained; glass derived from the mussels expresses the colour of its ecosystem, thanks to the minerals and trace metals filtered from the water. For example, glass from mussels from Lake Michigan has a vibrant ‘copper blue’ tone due to the lake’s high copper content. The team are now working to build a biochromatic report of the other Great Lakes. 

Bio-based and natural materials are gaining relevance as lower-impact alternatives, as are locally available and abundant materials. See our S/S 22 Materials Evolution for more.

Regional colour forecasting for Zebra Glass