Your next leather jacket, pair of shoes or bag can be made from specially engineered fungi, if research from the University of Vienna, Imperial College London, Australia and RMIT University in Australia make research predictions. Scientists at these institutions are investigating the possibility of making a permanent leather substitute made from mushroom material – and this may compare very favorably to both traditional animal-based leather and more recently plastic-derived versions.
The problem with animal-based leather is not just that it forces animal deaths (which may be a moral concern for you), but also deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions that occur with animal farming. In addition, the leather treatment process is called tanning which contains hazardous chemicals that can be harmful to the environment. Meanwhile, plastic leather substitutes are made from fossil fuels and do not biodegrade. Fungi may be the answer.
There are various ways to turn fungi into usable materials. “[In my lab]The approach we support involves using liquid residues such as liquids or whey from milk production, ”Alexander Bismarck, a professor at the University of Vienna and the Imperial Department of Chemical Engineering, told . “You can then grow mycelium (a mass of threads of fungus) in that medium, and use the fungus material produced to convert to nanomaterials – in this case, the fungus leather substitute.”
Within a few weeks of being produced, sheets of fungal material can be cut and treated to produce a material, which is made of biodegradable chitin and glucan biopolymer, which looks similar to animal leather is. While Bismarck’s lab is not directly commercializing fungus-based leather, he said such material is “already near market.”
He also mentioned that it can be tweaked to produce some interesting properties, such as materials that only last for a short period of time or something more difficult and long lasting. “I don’t want to overhype it, but I think if with proper care, you can substitute leather with a similar behavior [to animal-based leather], “She said.” It’s something that is still to be explored. “
His laboratory and fellow researchers are also interested in other textile applications for fungi-based materials. These can range from building materials to wound coverings with antibacterial properties.
These researchers are not simply busy developing permanent leather alternatives in a similar way. Startups like Bolt Threads are also producing mycelium-based fungal leather that can be “produced in days vs. years, a process that reduces our environmental impact.” Hopefully, it won’t be long before this technology comes to mass market.