A recent study report by an international team of material scientists indicates that a leather-like substance made from biomass extracted from mushrooms has the ability to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than animal leather or plastic alternatives.
A recent study report by an international team of material scientists indicates that a leather-like substance made from mushroom extracted biomass has the ability to be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than plastic or animal leather alternatives.
Sustainability advocates have traditionally embraced alternative, non animal-derived forms of leather. While these types of “ vegan textile ” sidestep many issues found when producing traditional leather, these synthetic materials have their own host of dilemmas.
In addition to focusing on harmful materials for processing, synthetic leathers often experience the same non-biodegradable issues that other plastic products face.
“We tend to think of synthetic leather, sometimes known as ‘vegan leather’, as being better for the environment,” says Alexander Bismarck, from the University of Vienna and co-author on the new review article. “However, traditional leather might be ethically questionable, and both leather and plastic substitutes have issues with environmental sustainability.”
The idea of using fungi biomass as a source for materials and textiles processing isn’t new. Back in the 1950s papermakers discovered that a polymer called chitin could be used to produce writing paper, found in the cell walls of the fungi. These fungi-derived compounds have been used more recently to create everything from building materials to fashionable textiles.
Leather made from fungi is a relatively recent invention. As mycology enthusiasts know, the tiny mushrooms we see come out of the field are only a tiny fraction of any given fungus. Under the field is an often spreading network of branching, threaded growths commonly known as mycelium. It is from this arrangement of mycelium that leather can be made.
In their recent review paper, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, Bismarck and colleagues claim that developments in production methods have resulted in fungi-derived leather now being able to fulfil customers’ “efficient and aesthetic demands.” The paper suggests that fungi-derived leather overcomes the ethical problems posed by animal leather and the environmental concerns confronting synthetic leather.
“As well as being more environmentally sustainable to produce than leather and its synthetic alternatives, since they do not rely on livestock farming or the use of fossil resources, pure fungi-biomass-based leather substitutes are also biodegradable at the end of their service life and cheap to manufacture,” the researchers write.
Scaling up fungal leather production to industrial levels is perhaps one of the remaining challenges confronting this burgeoning industry. But that may not be too much longer a problem. Just last year a team from Finland announced the invention of what they believed was a novel industrial method that can scale up production of fungi leather.
Bismarck and his colleagues believe leather alternatives derived from fungi are set to play a major role in future fabric markets. Bismarck says it is sustainable, cheap, ethical, biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
“Substantial developments in fungi-based leathers and the the number of businesses manufacturing them suggest that this new medium will play a major role in the development of fabrics that are ethically and environmentally safe,” says Bismarck.