Omani artist invents eco-friendly varnish made of frankincense

December 05, 2018

A young Omani artist and inventor has developed an eco-friendly varnish from frankincense. The inventor, Salim bin Abdullah al Kaabi, 24, claims that the varnish ‘Lubanium’ has no toxic or chemical component.

Kaabi, who hails from the wilayat of Mahdah in Buraimi, said that he grew up in a community which traditionally deemed painting unworthy of a profession.

The young artist initially decided to study chemical engineering at the Caledonian College of Engineering. Two years of learning about machinery made him realise that the artist within couldn’t be silenced. He took a leap of faith to apply to Glasgow School of Arts, one of Europe’s leading university-level art institutions.

On how we went about pursuing the project, Kaabi said, “The most common way to protect oil paintings against dust, heat and humidity is by using varnish which is made up of toxic chemicals. We are no strangers to their harmful side effects. Headaches, drowsiness and breathing trouble are the price you pay to protect and embellish oil paintings.”

Being in constant contact with the liquid, Kaabi fell ill in May 2017. “I was hospitalised due to breathing difficulties. After I recovered, I knew I had to eliminate the negative side of the one thing I love doing most, working on my art.”

With a clear purpose, Kaabi got down to work. He read a lot of research papers on how to free varnish of toxic and chemical compounds.

Kaabi wanted an environment-friendly, organic, efficiently produced varnish. Twenty failed experiments later, he finally had his moment. “I used Oman’s world-famous frankincense - a scented gum resin used as incense - to neutralise the effects of varnish.

“My product defuses the toxic fumes produced by varnish, making it bearable. My aim is to manually produce the frankincense-infused varnish for sealing paintings. With my knowledge of process engineering, I have developed a machine that produces a safe, organic varnish. I hope this will help to protect paintings and painters alike.”

Kaabi applied for patent at the Saudi Patent Office in November 2017 and hopes to get it soon.

On future plans, Kaabi said, “I want to start my own company and own a brand.”

Kaabi also won the Falling Wall Contest in 2017 organised by The Research Council.

Last month he came fourth in the Stars of Science contest in Qatar.