Learning about leather from fungi

– Dec. 11, 2020

Fungi are increasingly used as an alternative building material. From construction to consumer items such as furniture and textiles. This is an environmentally friendly alternative to other materials such as plastic that is receiving more and more attention. It has to be more environmentally friendly and cheaper, and that is possible with a kind of leather that does not come from animals but from (other) living organisms: namely fungi.

Let her have leather

The traditional method of leather production has actually been a source of discussion for years. But why? Most of the leather comes from cattle, and keeping cattle generates a lot of greenhouse gases. In addition, it is also considered unethical to kill animals and process their skin into leather. Finally, real leather needs environmentally polluting chemicals to complete the tanning process.

The first alternatives to leather avoided the use of livestock, but were and still are often made of synthetic materials. Fossil fuels are needed for this. This is kinder to animals, but not kinder to the environment. Fortunately, there are invisible but at the same time indispensable organisms that we can use: fungi. A broad analysis by researchers, recently published in the journal Nature Sustainability, shows that nowadays fungi can be used in a CO2-neutral production process to make leather from by-products from agriculture and forestry. 

Fungi to the rescue

Not only is fungal leather more environmentally friendly and cheaper to produce than real leather and synthetic alternatives, it is also biodegradable. Fungal leather is made from the belowground hyphae called mycelium. It is grown in such a way that it forms sheets. This ensures, among other things, that the product has an even thickness and colour. This fungal sheet is still processed by chemical treatment, but this does not have such harmful effects on the environment as other types of leather. The final product looks and feels like real leather. Already, there have been dresses made of mycelium here and there for the catwalk. Only time will tell whether large fashion stores will learn to display fungal leather in their shop windows.

Do you want to know more about fungi in daily life, or their use to produce furniture? Pay a visit to Micropia or read more in this  long read.