Liquid leather and mushroom bacon: the boom of biomaterials

As we grow more aware of how much we’ve damaged our planet, the rise of eco-friendly lifestyles and veganism breed new industries. Biomaterials are a hot topic: the more packaging, clothes, food, and even furniture they can turn “green”, the better. Ecovative, a company that leverages mushroom mycelia, knows a thing or two about that. They’ve just secured a hefty investment of $60 million for their mushroom empire, indicating high hopes for innovative biomaterials.

Startups, academia, and corporations are on a quest to find high-quality, reasonable replacements for synthetic and animal-based materials. And some of them are coming up with astonishing solutions that disrupt everything from packaging to high fashion. 

The mushroom biomaterials are everywhere

Mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, is the basis of materials that aim to replace plastics and reduce animal slaughter. In other words: you might wear it as the lining of your gloves or in your shoes, eat it in plant-based meat, or, say, it could protect your purchases instead of standard packaging.

While Ecovative is mostly famous for their Mushroom Packaging, fascinatingly enough, the same mycelium can tackle a problem that alternative meats struggle with. The likes of Beyond Burger are a dead ringer for meat, but it’s “minced” and mixed to perfection. The real texture of a piece of meat? That’s a whole different story. However, mycelium can supply this structure for entire cuts of vegan “meat”, allowing plant-based eaters to experience the meals they gave up again. 

“The demand for new biomaterials in the fashion industry, such as mycelium, far outstrips the current supply. Ecovative is tackling this challenge head-on, committing to building a next-generation platform capable of producing mycelium at scale,” said Katrin Ley, managing director of Fashion for Good, Techcrunch reports.

And they’re not the only company unlocking lucrative business opportunities with mycelium, with MycoWorks raising $45 million last year. And beyond mushroom-based materials, there’s a whole world of fascinating planet-friendly inventions.

The materials of the future

Lifegate released a comprehensive analysis of biomaterials of the future, and the market is getting interesting. 

Modern Meadow, for example, pioneers biofabrication and is known for its “liquid leather”. They specialize in proteins: or as they call it, nature’s building blocks. Those “can be re-assembled and engineered into advanced bio-based materials”. The company has just closed a $130 Million Series C Funding. 

Another intriguing material would be silk. Since the “real” thing is not suitable for vegans, some companies came up with an alternative. Japanese startup Spiber produces sports clothing from synthetic silk, and they released Moon Parka in collaboration with North Face. Another big player to get into the silk game is Adidas. They’ve used a silk-like polymer from Amsilk, which utilizes spider DNA applied to a bacterium. 

We have to mention a process called “microbial weaving”- It manipulates the growth of k. rhaeticus, bacteria you can find in kombucha tea. This can create a synthetic fiber that is stronger than steel and more resistant than Kevlar. 

Lastly, even food waste can become something useful. That’s Caffeine uses coffee grounds aggregated with organic binders, minerals, and plant-based resins, and eggshells or oranges become single-use crockery and fabrics respectively. 

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