Archyworldys – Leather is used as a durable and flexible material in many aspects of daily life. Mushroom-derived skin substitutes are considered to be an ethical and ecological alternative to traditionally obtained skin.
An international team led by chemists Alexander Bismarck and Mitchell Jones of the University of Vienna demonstrates the considerable potential of these durable renewable fabrics derived from mushrooms.
Traditional leather and its alternatives are usually obtained from animals and synthetic polymers, respectively. Leather can be considered a co-product of meat production, both with animal husbandry and with the skin production process, considered increasingly questionable from an ethical point of view.
However, in addition to moral issues, the production of natural leather also brings with it environmental problems, as both grazing deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from the production process and the use of hazardous substances in the tanning process affect environment.
Moreover, the alternative production of synthetic substitutes for leather materials such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU) also depends on chemicals derived from fossil fuels.
The solution grows in the garden
“This is where the fungus-like materials come into play, which are generally CO2-neutral and biodegradable at the end of their life,” says Alexander Bismarck of the University of Vienna’s Faculty of Chemistry.
Leather substitutes can be produced from mushrooms by recycling low-cost forest by-products, such as sawdust. They serve as a raw material for the growth of fungal mycelium, which is a mass of elongated tubular structures and represents the vegetative growth of filamentous fungi.
In a few weeks, the fungal biomass can be harvested and treated physically and chemically by pressing and crosslinking.
“As a result, these fungal biomass sheets look like skin and have comparable tactile properties,” says Alexander Bismarck.
The first biotechnology companies are already selling mushroom-derived materials.
Mushroom-derived skin substitutes usually contain completely biodegradable chitin, which acts as a stabilizer in the material, and other polysaccharides, such as glucans.
In their own studies, Alexander Bismarck and Mitchell Jones have already conducted research using mushroom species, such as A. bisporus and D. confragosa, to produce paper and foam-like constructions used for applications such as insulation.
In this review article, scientists examine the sustainability of bovine and synthetic skins and present an overview of the first developments and commercialization of mushroom skin substitutes.
According to the authors, one of the biggest challenges in the production of mushroom-like materials is to make homogeneous and consistent mycelium mats, “which show a uniform increase in thickness, color and consistent mechanical properties.”
To date, the production of these materials has been driven mainly by entrepreneurship.
Mushrooms, as a raw material for skin substitutes, offer a cost-effective, socially and ecologically healthy alternative to bovine and synthetic skin and are of particular interest to consumers and companies aware of sustainability, as well as the vegan community, the researchers write. .
Substantial advances in this technology and the growing number of companies producing biomass-based alternatives suggest that this new material will play a significant role in the future of ethical and environmentally friendly materials.