There are traditionally two ways to make a leather jacket. One involves the cow, which takes many years. The other requires synthetic fabric, and plastic. But there is a third option: thick sheets of woven fungus can grow for more than two weeks on anything from sawdust to agricultural waste.
Alexander Bismarck, a material scientist at the University of Vienna, says, “It feels a little like mushrooms, but it’s like a piece of old leather jacket.”
Over the past decade, companies in the United States, Indonesia and Korea have claimed fungal skin as a protocol and environmentally sustainable alternative to both cowhide and plastic. Previously, there was not much research to support their claims. But a study published by Dr. Bismarck and his colleagues Last week at Nature Sustainability When it comes to versatility and consistency it finds fungal skin well layered.
Wearing fungal skin does not mean wearing a mushroom motorcycle jacket. Instead it is made from the mat of the mycelium, the root thread-like root networks in which fruiting bodies appear after rain. These tiny mats will grow easily on any organic material.
Beginning in the 1950s, inventors began filing patents around fungal mats as material for paper, wound decorations, and many other products, but they were never fully captured, said Mitchell Jones, a leading author and material scientist at the University of Vienna. Technology.
But over the past decade, companies such as Microworks and Bolt Threads have begun to produce and market fungal skin products.
“With leather, you are limited to the skin that an animal can produce in its lifetime, while micro mats can be grown as specifications, ”said Sofia Wang, co-founder of Micoworks.
Dr. Bismarck said the potential for custom materials is enormous because different types of fungi have different properties such as hardness and water resistance, and there are millions of species to choose from.
Fungal skin is more stable than other skin sources. The tanning process is energetic and productive A bit of garbage – and synthetic leather production requires plastic, which includes oil. “You get a biological organism to do all of your production for you, so no real energy is needed,” Dr. Jones said.
“It does not need light. Once you get this material, you can process it according to the most simple chemical treatments compared to what you usually do for tanning the skin. ”
Although fungal skin performs very well in team life tests, there are still some questions about its long-term hardness.
“Early industrial results indicate that life is much better compared to animal skins,” Dr. Jones said, “but some in the industry are a little cheated because they attach a polyester and make it into a composite skin.”
The fungal leather industry is still in its infancy, and often creates evidence for the luxury market concept: prototypes The Bolt Threat fungal leather handbag sold for about $ 400 When they are available, the price is similar to a good quality leather bag.
But Dr. Jones believes costs are likely to fall as the industry grows. “There are already huge mushroom growing industries producing all kinds of mushrooms for the culinary market. Technology is already in place for mass-produced mushrooms.”
Fungal skin products like mushrooms will soon appear everywhere after rain. The question is whether consumers will realize the magic. After all, if you regret those fungal leather pants you buy in the future, can you just throw them in the yard and let them become compost?
“All of that has not yet been explored,” Dr. Bismarck said.