Bacterial nanocellulose probably sounds like a term learned in high school biology and forgotten about unless you enter a STEM field. Fear not those with the trauma of high school science class, bacterial nanocellulose is actually at the core of the construction of an exceptionally.
versatile material that can replace a variety of petrochemical and animal-derived materials. These exceptionally versatile materials are currently being developed by Modern Synthesis, a London-based biomaterials innovation company working to develop radical and regenerative material solutions for the fashion industry.
To date, Modern Synthesis has raised more than $4 million in seed funding, enabling them to build a pilot facility in south-west London and increase their ability to scale their materials made from bacterial nanocellulose.
According to McKinsey, more than 70 percent of the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions come from upstream activities, such as energy-intensive production, preparation and processing of raw materials. Modern Synthesis technology uses the ability of bacteria to transform sugar from agricultural waste into nanocellulose, a particularly fine and strong form of cellulose.
The company’s biomanufacturing platform combines the growth patterns of microbes with state-of-the-art textile production techniques to create a novel range of natural nonwoven materials that have a distinctive look, feel and performance potential.
Bacteria essentially weave customizable biotextiles and composites. To further its quest for sustainability, the fashion industry needs to move away from fossil fuels.
The company’s chief executive, Jen Keane, said: “Fashion needs to decarbonize its existing supply chains in the short term. But equally, we need new materials and systems that comprehensively address key emissions-related challenges like plastic and chemical pollution. Cellulose is one of the most abundant polymers on the planet and the cornerstone of most plant-based materials, from cotton to linen. It is low cost, biodegradable, and adaptable to many different applications. At the fiber level, it is 8 times stronger than steel and stiffer than Kevlar.
When cultivated by bacteria, the material becomes a tight mesh of fibers so small that they resemble a transparent film or gel. The journey to develop bacterial nanocellulose began with Keane’s MA project in 2018 at Central Saint Martins. He grew the upper part of a shoe with bacterial nanocellulose and continuous thread.
He collaborated with scientists at Imperial College London, including Dr. Ben Reeve, now CTO of Modern Synthesis. Reeve says the possibilities are exciting because “not only are these bacteria naturally efficient, but we can also innovate from the organism level to adapt the exceptionally versatile material they produce.