Austrian scientists, together with colleagues from Finland, are completing the development of a technology for the industrial production of a new synthetic leather substitute. They chose mushrooms as the main material and learned to process them in such a way that the resulting material is “visually and functionally” similar to the treated skin of animals. But this does not require killing anyone, and the source of raw materials is potentially endless.
The main disadvantage of natural leather is the complexity and cost of raising animals. Plus, hazardous chemicals are used to process it, and there are more and more consumers among consumers who refuse such material for ethical reasons. Synthetic leather has another problem – it degrades extremely poorly in a normal environment, which also damages nature. It was the general massive demand for natural, safe and biodegradable materials that prompted scientists to study mushrooms.
Half a century ago it became known that the cell walls of fungi contain chitin, and it was this substance that became the subject of research. Polymer chitin turned out to be universal, and they learned to make many things from it – from paper to building materials. One problem is that it is not contained in the outer, visible part of the mushroom, but in the mycelium, which extends underground in the form of thin filaments. Their production is too laborious to talk about the profitability of the venture.
But that all changed last year when Finnish scientists built a new type of mushroom farm that uses organic waste from the urban environment. It is specifically designed for fast growing and harvesting of mycelium for commercial purposes. Now, if you combine the two technologies, it will be possible to obtain “mushroom skin” for clothes and accessories, without killing anyone or polluting nature.