There are historically two methods to make a leather-based jacket. One includes a cow, and takes years. One other includes artificial cloth, and requires plastic. However there’s a 3rd choice: thick sheets of woven fungus, grown over a few weeks on something from sawdust to agricultural waste.
“It feels a bit and smells a bit like mushroom, still, but it looks like a piece of old leather jacket,” mentioned Alexander Bismarck, a supplies scientist on the College of Vienna.
Over the past decade, firms in the USA, Indonesia and Korea have touted fungal leather-based as an moral and environmentally sustainable substitute for each cow pores and skin and plastic. Beforehand, there wasn’t a lot analysis to assist their claims. However a examine printed by Dr. Bismarck and his colleagues last week in Nature Sustainability finds that fungal leathers stack up fairly nicely on the subject of versatility and sustainability.
Carrying fungal leather-based doesn’t imply carrying a mushroom bike jacket. As a substitute it’s comprised of a mat of mycelium, the underlying threadlike root networks from which fruiting our bodies pop up after a rain. These mycelial mats develop simply on nearly any natural materials.
Starting within the Fifties, inventors started to file patents primarily based round fungal mats as a fabric for paper, wound dressings and a variety of different merchandise, however they by no means absolutely caught on, mentioned Mitchell Jones, lead creator and supplies scientist from the Vienna College of Expertise.
However within the final decade, firms like MycoWorks and Bolt Threads have begun manufacturing and promoting fungal leather-based merchandise.
“With leather, you’re limited to the skin that an animal produces over its life, whereas mycelial mats can be grown to specifications,” mentioned Sophia Wang, co-founder of MycoWorks.
Dr. Bismarck mentioned the potential for customized supplies is big as a result of completely different sorts of fungus have completely different properties, corresponding to toughness and water resistance, and there are doubtlessly thousands and thousands of species to select from.
Fungal leather-based can be doubtlessly extra sustainable than different leather-based sources. The tanning course of is vitality intensive and produces quite a bit of sludge waste — and the manufacturing of artificial leather-based requires plastic, which includes oil. “You’re getting a biological organism to do all of your manufacturing for you, so there’s no real energy requirement,” Dr. Jones mentioned.
“It doesn’t require light. And once you’ve got this material, you can process it according to quite simple chemical treatments compared to what you would normally do for leather tanning.”
However whereas fungal leather-based did fairly nicely within the staff’s sturdiness checks, there are nonetheless some questions on its long-term toughness.
“Initial industry results indicate the durability is quite good compared to animal leather,” Dr. Jones mentioned, “but some of the industry are cheating a bit because they incorporate a felted polyester and make it into a composite leather.”
The fungal leather-based business remains to be in its infancy, and is essentially producing proofs of idea for the posh market: prototypes of Bolt Thread’s fungal leather handbag sold for about $400 after they had been accessible, an identical worth to a good-quality leather-based bag.
However Dr. Jones believes that the prices are prone to drop because the business grows. “There’s already massive mushroom cultivation industries that are producing all kinds of mushrooms for the culinary market. The technology to mass produce mushrooms is already there.”
Fungal leather-based merchandise would possibly quickly pop up in all places, like mushrooms after a rain. The query is whether or not shoppers will really feel the magic. In any case, for those who remorse these fungal leather-based pants you purchase sooner or later, are you able to simply throw them out within the yard and allow them to develop into compost?
“That’s all not yet been explored,” Dr. Bismarck mentioned.