Researchers develop new non-woven fabric made from fungus: 'It's kind of futuristic'

If you want your clothing and upholstery to be eco-friendly and not animal-based, you'll soon have a new option: fabric grown from fungus, Phys.org reported.

The research initiative MY-FI is a four-year project managed by the Italy-based design company Mogu. Scheduled to finish in October 2024, the project has brought together researchers and textile industry experts to experiment with growing cloth from mycelium, the web of root-like structures fungi produce as they grow.

"It's definitely a change of mindset in the manufacturing process," Annalisa Moro, Mogu's EU project leader, told Phys.org. "You're really collaborating with nature to grow something rather than create it, so it's kind of futuristic."

The innovative new process involves growing a sheet of mycelium by adding starter spawn (a small amount of mycelium grown from spores in organic materials) to a growth medium such as grain. The fungus grows a layer of threadlike strands on top of the growth medium, which researchers harvest and dry.

Treat those sheets with bio-based chemicals to make them stronger, and you are left with squares of non-woven fabric that can stand up to wear and tear. Phys.org described them as "soft, silky white sheets … that are 50 to 60 square centimeters" (or about 7.75 to 9.3 square inches).

Currently, most clothing and textiles are made partly or completely from synthetic fabrics, meaning fabrics made from different types of plastic. Harvesting oil to make plastic causes major pollution, and synthetic fabrics pollute the environment even further by shedding microplastics.

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But some people object to natural and biodegradable alternatives like wool and leather, either out of concern for the animals or because of the processes used to manufacture these kinds of clothing.

Mycelium-based fabric is the best of both worlds: It's natural and biodegradable, but it doesn't come from an animal. Plus, it uses less land, water, and chemicals to manufacture than even plant-based options like cotton, Phys.org reported.

Italian fashion designer and manufacturer Dyloan Bond Factory has already used the mycelium fabric to create several prototype outfits and accessories, including a dress, a skirt-and-top combo, handbags, and more.

Auto manufacturer Volkswagen is also looking to use mycelium fabric as a lighter and more socially accepted alternative to leather in car upholstery.

Dr. Martina Gottschling, a researcher at Volkswagen Group Innovation, told Phys.org, "A fast-growing biological material that can be produced animal-free and with little effort, which also does not require petroleum-based resources, is a game-changer in interior materials."

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