Materials

Scientists produce continuous sheets of sustainable mushroom leather

Scientists produce continuous ...
Samples of mycelium leather sheets produced at VTT
Samples of mycelium leather sheets produced at VTT
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Samples of mycelium leather sheets produced at VTT
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Samples of mycelium leather sheets produced at VTT
VTT's mycelium-based leather
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VTT's mycelium-based leather
Researchers in Finland have come up with a manufacturing technique that allows sheets of mycelium leather to be produced at scale
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Researchers in Finland have come up with a manufacturing technique that allows sheets of mycelium leather to be produced at scale
Samples of patterned mycelium leather
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Samples of patterned mycelium leather
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Producing leather from animal skin is a practice humans have engaged in for thousands of years, but the environmental consequences of modern processing techniques have led some to seek a greener alternative. Among them are scientists at Finland's VTT Technical Research Centre, who have been developing an alternative leather made from fungi and they've now demonstrated a way to produce continuous sheets of the stuff at commercial scales.

Conventional leather production has a heavy environmental burden, which begins with the land, water and energy associated with mass livestock farming. But processing the leather has an impact too, requiring large amounts of toxic chemicals. So-called "vegan leather," which is made from synthetic materials, avoids the issues around animal products, but also requires toxic chemicals to process and takes a long time to biodegrade. It therefore carries a lot of the same risks to the environment.

The VTT researchers have been cooking up an alternative they believe can sidestep these problems entirely. The approach starts with threaded webs of organic material known as mycelium, which sprawl out beneath the ground and support mushrooms as the grow. Using this biomass to produce textiles and fabrics is something that has been done for centuries, but through their experiments, the VTT team has refined these processes to produce a skin-like material with similar feel and strength to real leather.

VTT's mycelium-based leather
VTT's mycelium-based leather

“The material has a leathery look and feel and can be as strong as animal leather," says VTT Senior Scientist Géza Szilvay. "It also offers the possibility to be colored and patterned, and it does not contain any backing or supporting materials.”

The scientists first revealed their process back in 2019, but noted that a bottleneck remained when it came to scaling it up for industrial-style production. This stemmed from the limitations of mycelium cultivation, which could only take place in a planar, two-dimensional form. The researchers have now come up with a new patent-pending technology they say busts this bottleneck apart, relying on liquid fermentation in common bioreactors to scale things up to commercial levels.

Researchers in Finland have come up with a manufacturing technique that allows sheets of mycelium leather to be produced at scale
Researchers in Finland have come up with a manufacturing technique that allows sheets of mycelium leather to be produced at scale

This new technique allows the scientists to produce mycelium leather at scale, rolling out continuous sheets of the stuff at a rate of one meter (3.3 ft) per minute. The scientists say this can be adapted to industrial roll-to-roll production methods, and they are currently exploring applications such as footwear, accessories and garments.

The video below provides an overview of the research.

Scalable and continuous production of mycelium leather (4 min video)

Source: VTT Technical Research Centre

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5 comments
5 comments
Signguy
Having been a leather artist; carving images and people into leather, how does this hold up; can you carve it?
Make shoes, purses, watch bands, etc.?
piperTom
Right now, int 2021, conventional leather production doesn't have to pay for the land, water and energy associated with mass livestock farming. Because we are doing all that for the meat production anyhow; not using the skins would be a huge waste. In the near future, "lab grown" meat might turn out to be as good as its press releases; THEN a new source of eco-friendly leather might be much valued. Pending such dietary revolution, this new leather seems mostly for people who are already ethical vegans.
Rustgecko
"Conventional leather production has a heavy environmental burden, which begins with the land, water and energy associated with mass livestock farming. "

I don't think so. Leather is a by-product of the meat industry. Replace leather completely with fungi and the animal skins would still be produced.
Worzel
Clothing that can really grow on you?
anthony88
I'd say there wouldn't be mushroom in a pair of tight pants made from this.