Non-Toxic Bioleather, Inspired by Indigenous Science, Created at Columbia Engineering

There’s yet another eco-friendly, plant-based lecithin “tanning” process for nanocellulose that has created a strong, compostable bioleather. This new process promises to not only transform future textile development but also cultural heritage research. A texfash.com report.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • The microbial nanocellulose (MC) bioleather has a 1,000-times lower carcinogenic impact than cow leather and a significantly smaller carbon footprint than synthetic leather or cotton.
  • To make high-performance biotextiles, a team at Columbia Engineering, harnessed microbial biosynthesis of nanocellulose, drawing inspiration from pre-industrial and indigenous science.
  • The researchers created a pair of naturally dyed, microbial bioleather sneakers in collaboration with Public School NY.
The researchers created a pair of naturally dyed, microbial bioleather sneakers in a collaboration with Public School NY. The sneakers were part of an exhibition, Towards a Circular Society: Learning from Nature, recently at the University of Bern’s Wyss Academy for Nature.
Not Toxic The researchers created a pair of naturally dyed, microbial bioleather sneakers in a collaboration with Public School NY. The sneakers were part of an exhibition, Towards a Circular Society: Learning from Nature, recently at the University of Bern’s Wyss Academy for Nature. Jon Brown / Public School NY

Biomedical engineering researchers have created a compostable bioleather with superior flame-retardance and low environmental impact. Their microbial nanocellulose (MC) bioleather has a 1,000-times lower carcinogenic impact than cow leather and a significantly smaller carbon footprint than synthetic leather or cotton.

The researchers: The team at Columbia Engineering, led by Theanne Schiros and Helen Lu, together with PhD candidate Romare Antrobus, has been working together for several years in Columbia’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) to develop materials for a broad range of applications from biomedicine to energy, electronics, and textiles laid the foundation for inventing this versatile new material.

  • Their study was published on 1 July in Environmental Science: Advances.
  • The researchers created a pair of naturally dyed, microbial bioleather sneakers in a collaboration with Public School NY. The sneakers were part of an exhibition, Towards a Circular Society: Learning from Nature, recently at the University of Bern’s Wyss Academy for Nature.

The backdrop: Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, clothing production has been on an unsustainable path. Like most manufacturing, textiles are produced in a linear fashion with a cradle-to-grave model.

  • Fabrics like cotton are farmed, worn, used, then thrown away.
  • The textiles industry as a whole is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, with leather being especially harmful.
  • The cattle industry is the single leading driver of deforestation, and the tanning of leather creates a great deal of chemical pollution.
  • These challenges have motivated a search for more sustainable textiles, especially leather alternatives.

The research: To make high-performance biotextiles, the team harnessed microbial biosynthesis of nanocellulose, drawing inspiration from pre-industrial and indigenous science.

  • Team leader Schiros hypothesised that a main component of mammalian brain used for millennia to tan hides into leather—lecithin phosphatidylcholine—would stabilise the interaction of cellulose with both water and lipids in a tanning emulsion, and modify the material properties of MC through its hydrophilic groups to make it suitable for use as a bioleather.
  • When the researchers used traditional brain and smoke tanning processes, they noted an increase in tensile strength and ductility of MC, which encouraged this line of investigation.
  • Their discovery led to the development of an eco-friendly, plant-based lecithin “tanning” process for nanocellulose that created a strong, compostable bioleather.
  • This new process will not only transform future textile development but also cultural heritage research.
  • While civilisations around the world have been creating sustainable and durable textiles since antiquity, most of these ancient techniques have been lost.
 
 
  • Dated posted: October 3, 2022
  • Last modified: October 3, 2022