BioscienZ: Upcycling agricultural waste to create Myco-leather

The MycoMaterials project, led by BioscienZ (NL) was awarded €1,05 million from Eurostars to develop their revolutionary MycoMaterials technology for circular production of mycelial (Myco-)leather, generated from agrifood by-products. Currently 92% of animal leather is chromium-tanned, generating toxic heavy metal waste and presenting a health risk to workers, while synthetic leather alternatives depend on fossil-based feedstocks and are pollutive to the environment, often requiring expensive recovery schemes. The MycoMaterials project will address strong demand for sustainable leather alternatives. Catalyze is proud to have supported BioscienZ in preparing the successful Eurostars proposal. Read our interview with Will van den Tweel, PhD, General Manager of BioscienZ, to learn more about the project and collaboration with Catalyze

Pioneering biobased leather: low cost, low carbon footprint

The 36 month MycoMaterials project aims to bring to market both sustainable Myco-leather, and patented Myco-leather production technology. To achieve this, BioscienZ and project partners, B4Plastics and MillVision, will develop a first-of-its-kind fermentation technology for vegan leather production. Using a proprietary processing technology, fungal mycelium will be crosslinked into a myco-pulp, which can then be converted into biobased leather.

Will introduces BioscienZ, “In BioscienZ we are working towards employing our proprietary low-cost fungal technology within various application areas.  Already some time ago, we had started a small project and assessment of whether we could produce leather textile like material based on fungal mycelium.

“We have especially rich experience in submerge fermentation – where you grow the fungus in a reactor and then you get the mycelium, which you can use for various purposes. In this project, together with Millvision and B4Plastics, we will work on developing new biobased leather materials for commercial applications.”

Circular economy: creating value in agrifood sidestreams

The MycoMaterials technology has low environmental impact, as the feedstock comes from upcycled agricultural waste – wheatstarch and lactose streams, protamylase stream (co-product of potato starch), or animal manure – and the mycelium cultivating process is energy efficient. Thus, the technology can contribute to a circular economy by connecting food and non-food supply chains.

Will says, “Looking at what we are doing in this world, I think we need more bio based solutions – but we also should be careful with what we select as starting materials. Agrifood sidestreams and especially those that do not best fit for food or feed applications present a very useful resource, especially when you work towards making new biobased materials.”

As a result of the diverse agrifood sidestreams that will be used in the project, BioscienZ will need to investigate and optimize their MycoMaterials technology for each sidestream respectively.

Will explains, “Different sidestreams have different characteristics that effect fungal growth and fungal mycelium characteristics. We will have to investigate how we can achieve a certain quality of strength and elasticity that is sufficient for specific applications.”

BioscienZ’s Eurostars success: collaborating with Catalyze

Eurostars is a highly competitive programme. Aside from having an excellent project idea to begin with, shaping your project proposal, framing it in the correct light, and finding complimentary expertise are all essential to a successful application. The Catalyze team provided support throughout the preparation and writing of the MycoMaterials project proposal to Eurostars.

Will describes their experience of working with Catalyze:

“Catalyze of course has an excellent track record. Especially in Eurostars, you are very successful. When I look at the intake process, and also the overall process in putting the proposal together, it was all very professional. You were responsive, and kept to the dates and commitments that were set. And you surely have a lot of experience with this type of proposal – you have templates for everything.”

Finishing, Will adds, “Overall, it was a pleasant, constructive collaboration and support by Catalyze.”

Eurostars partners with complimentary expertise

Within their Eurostars project, BioscienZ and partners B4Plastics and Millvision combine highly complimentary expertise. B4Plastics is a Polymer Achitecture Company, specialized in catalyzing the introduction of novel biomaterials from niche to bulk applications; while Millvision has expertise in development of circular biobased materials and products.

Will describes why they make a strong consortium:

Our partners have complementary knowledge and expertise that we need for the project. We have extensive experience with various microorganisms; we know how to isolate specific organisms, and how to treat and grow them, keeping in mind the targets of the project. But once you have harvested the mycelium it needs to be converted to a useful biomaterial, which requires both physical and chemical treatments – so it is not only fermentation.

“That’s why we also have B4plastics and Millvision. There are also additional steps, such as taking the paper-like solution of mycelium flocks and bringing it together to form a sheet. Together with B4Plastics and Millvision we can achieve this. Millvision actually has a small paper machine. We are designing a new headbox for the machine that can pump the myco-pulp into sheets.”

Using the redesigned paper machines, BioscienZ together with its partners aims for the Myco-leather to become the first biobased leather that can be produced continuously in sheets. This will enable lower production costs, and allow Myco-leather to realise its potential to serve the market broadly through both luxury leather applications and commodity leather.

Catalyze is proud to have supported BioscienZ in their successful Eurostars application.

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