A new article from an international team of materials scientists suggests that a leather-like material made from mushroom-derived biomass may be cheaper than animal leather or its plastic derivatives, while being environmentally sustainable,media reported. For thousands of years, humans have used animals to make leather. Recently, with the increase of ethical concern for large-scale animal husbandry, the environmental cost of leather production has become a serious problem.
In addition to the environmental damage caused by raising livestock, leather processing requires the use of a large number of hazardous chemicals.
Alternative leather from non-animal sources has been welcomed by sustainability advocates. Although these “vegan textiles” avoid many of the problems encountered in the production of traditional leather, these synthetic materials have their own major problems. In addition to relying on toxic chemicals for production, synthetic leather faces non-degradable problems for most plastic products.
“We tend to think that artificial leather, sometimes referred to as ‘vegan leather’, is better for the environment,” says Alexander Bismarck of the University of Vienna, who is also co-author of the new review. “
The idea of using fungal biomass as the basis for the production of materials and textiles is not new. As early as the 1950s, papermakers discovered a polymer called crustacean in the cell walls of fungi that could be used to make writing paper. Recently, these fungal-derived compounds have been used to make everything from building materials to fashionable textiles.
Fungal-derived leather is a relatively new technological innovation. Mycology fans know that the small mushrooms we see coming out of the ground are only a small part of any known fungus. Underground, it is usually a cranberry mesh branch, called mycelium. Leather is produced using this mycelium structure.
In the article, Bismarck and his colleagues argue that advances in the manufacturing process have enabled fungal-derived leather to meet consumer expectations for functionality and aesthetics. They believe that fungal leather overcomes the ethical problems faced by animal revolution and the environmental problems faced by synthetic leather.
How to raise the production of fungal leather to industrial levels may be one of the remaining obstacles facing this emerging industry. But that may not be a problem for a long time. Just last year, a team from Finland announced what they called progress on a new industrial process that could expand the production of fungal leather.
Bismarck and his colleagues believe that leather substitutes derived from fungi will play an important role in the fabric market of the future. He says the alternative is sustainable, cheap, ethical, biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
In addition, he added, the huge advances in bacterial leather and the increasing number of companies starting to produce bacterial leather suggest that the new material will play an important role in future fabrics — both ethical and environmental.