Fungal leather is also potentially more sustainable than other leather sources. The tanning process is energy intensive and produces quite a bit of sludge waste — and the production of synthetic leather requires plastic, which involves oil. “You’re getting a biological organism to do all of your manufacturing for you, so there’s no real energy requirement,” Dr. Jones said.
“It doesn’t require light. And once you’ve got this material, you can process it according to quite simple chemical treatments compared to what you would normally do for leather tanning.”
But while fungal leather did quite well in the team’s durability tests, there are still some questions about its long-term toughness.
“Initial industry results indicate the durability is quite good compared to animal leather,” Dr. Jones said, “but some of the industry are cheating a bit because they incorporate a felted polyester and make it into a composite leather.”
The fungal leather industry is still in its infancy, and is largely producing proofs of concept for the luxury market: prototypes of Bolt Thread’s fungal leather handbag sold for about $400 when they were available, a similar price to a good-quality leather bag.
But Dr. Jones believes that the costs are likely to drop as the industry grows. “There’s already massive mushroom cultivation industries that are producing all kinds of mushrooms for the culinary market. The technology to mass produce mushrooms is already there.”
Fungal leather products might soon pop up everywhere, like mushrooms after a rain. The question is whether consumers will feel the magic. After all, if you regret those fungal leather pants you buy in the future, can you just throw them out in the yard and let them become compost?
“That’s all not yet been explored,” Dr. Bismarck said.
Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/16/science/fungus-leather.html