Fungal leather production could mean change of tack for equestrians

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The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is producing mycelium leather sheets.
The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is producing mycelium leather sheets.

“Alternative” leather tack for the horse world may be a step closer thanks to a Finnish company that has engineered technology that enables the continuous manufacturing of mycelium leather sheets by the metre.

Leather and synthetic leather production have a large negative environmental impact because of the resource-intensive processes and hazardous chemicals used during production.

Fungal mycelium is a bio-based raw material that can be sustainably processed into leather-like materials. Until now, increasing production volume with current methods has been challenging due to mycelium cultivation taking place in a planar two-dimensional form limited in size.

» Earlier story: Could horse gear be made from ‘vegan leather’?

The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland’s patent-pending technology for producing mycelium leather alternative materials is based on growing mycelium in common bioreactors. The benefits of this approach are that liquid fermentation in bioreactors is easily scalable to commercial scales and similar fermentation technology is already widely used in the food, chemical, and pharma industries.

The film-making process developed by VTT enables continuous mycelium leather alternative production using VTT’s pilot equipment. The benefits of this manufacturing method are consistent quality, competitive production price, and reduced amounts of offcuts.

VTT’s Research Scientist Manuel Arias Barrantes says the company’s process makes it possible to overcome size limitations. The first product applications for the material could be accessories, footwear, and garments, for example.

The mycelium leather has a leathery look and feel and can be as strong as animal leather, researchers say.

VTT’s Senior Scientist Géza Szilvay said the material has a leathery look and feel and can be as strong as animal leather. “It also offers the possibility to be colored and patterned, and it does not contain any backing or supporting materials.”

The VTT team is now working on improving tear strength and abrasion resistance by bio-based approaches.

The work done at VTT, funded by Business Finland, will contribute to an accelerated availability of mycelium leather alternatives in the market.

Horsetalk.co.nz

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