ModernTex: Developing a circular and 100% biobased leather alternative
The ModernTex consortium, led by Modern Synthesis, was awarded €850K by the Eurostars programme to develop a unique circular, plastic- and petrochemicals-free, nanocellulose-based leather alternative with minimum environmental impact. Joining Modern Synthesis in the project consortium are Lund University (SE), VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and Dimpora AG (CHE). Catalyze is proud to have supported Modern Synthesis in preparing this successful submission to Eurostars. We heard from Sarah West Young, Head of Growth, about Modern Synthesis’ mission, ModernTex, and the collaboration with Catalyze.
Modern Synthesis (UK) is an inspiring materials company deploying their patent-pending biotechnology platform to produce innovative materials that are circular by nature, and customizable by design. The synthesis of the natural materials begins with feeding bacteria agricultural sugars, which are naturally converted into nanocellulose fibres that are ~8 times stronger by weight than steel. A matrix of nanocellulose is used to encapsulate a bio-based textile scaffold and finished with biofilm membrane, creating a new class of material.
Founded on the basis of research carried out by Co-Founders, Jen Keane (CEO) and Dr. Ben Reeve (CTO), Modern Synthesis is united behind a vision to combine sustainability, technology, creativity, and beauty in their materials. Their revolutionary class of nonwoven materials not only displaces a wide range of textiles – from leathers to plastic films – but also unlocks new design possibilities within fashion, automotive and other sectors.
The ModernTex project
A growing demand for circular materials is being driven by the EU textiles regulatory framework and leading fashion brands’ commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of the supply chain. With a carbon footprint of 60-150 kgCO2/m2, animal leather is the leading textile in terms of environmental impact. In their Eurostars project, Modern Synthesis aims to bring ModernTex to the leather alternatives market. Through the unique, patented technical approach of Modern Synthesis, ModernTex achieves high tensile strength, comparable to animal leather.
While there are synthetic leather alternatives, these rely on composites of fossil-fuel-derived polymers which are not biodegradable nor recyclable. ModernTex will meet the demand for a scalable and circular leather alternative.
“With our technology, we can invent new classes of materials”
Sarah shares what makes their materials groundbreaking for the materials market:
“Since our materials are part biofilm and part traditional textile, we have the ability to precisely ‘tune’ them to meet the specific brand requirements of our partners. As an illustration, let’s say that a luxury fashion brand is in search of black, flexible material that’s 1mm thick, and visibly aligns with their brand DNA. Let’s begin with the biofilm. We can manipulate the material’s flexibility and thickness by adjusting the concentration of nanocellulose fibres, or by making tweaks in post processing with natural additives. Post processing alterations also enable us to change the biofilm’s colour, sheen, and texture to align with the brand’s aesthetic.
“We can then also customise the textile aspect of the material. To further embed the brand’s DNA, we can alter the yarn composition (e.g., lyocell/cotton/hemp), yarn colouring or scaffold patterning. Or we might form a semi-transparent biofilm around an off-the-shelf textile that the brand is known for, to give it a whole new look. By manipulating the textile aspect of our materials we can deliberately change the handfeel, texture, and even the types of product forms which are possible.”
Sarah finishes, “So while we can create materials which displace animal leathers, we see doing so as a first step in the right direction. With our technology, we can invent new classes of materials that entirely eliminate the need for plastic pollution, chemical pollution, and animal cruelty, by design.”
Modern Synthesis’s platform allows them to reinforce a biofilm with natural textile scaffold to create a strong, highly tuneable material. Images provided by Modern Synthesis.
A circular, 100% recyclable leather alternative
Along with developing the production process for fabrication of ModernTex, together with the ModernTex leather itself, the consortium also aims to develop an efficient recycling process to degrade ModernTex back into sugars. In turn, they will become feedstock for future production of new nanocellulose for ModernTex. The textile material in the product will also be fully recyclable.
Sarah comments on the significance of circularity in creating a fully recyclable leather:
“The components of our materials are naturally biodegradable, from the nanocellulose to the natural textile scaffolding that it is formed around. Cellulosics are already built into nature’s regeneration cycles, so by using them we can close the loop and feed into new cycles of growth and production – not only our own, but potentially other streams as well.”
Complimentary, interdisciplinary expertise
Together the ModernTex consortium combines highly complementary, interdisciplinary expertise. Modern Synthesis bring the patented approach for creating the textile, Dimpora bring cutting-edge membrane technology to develop a 3D biobased waterproof membrane finish for the leather material, while Lund University will generate the recycling process to enable full circularity.
Sarah remarks, “We’re firm believers that real impact happens when disparate disciplines collide, and that is exactly what is happening with this consortium. Working alongside Dimpora, VTT and Lund University, three entities at the forefront of material systems innovation, will amplify our expertise and accelerate us on the path to the circular bioeconomy of the future.”
Collaborating with Catalyze
Eurostars is the go-to for R&D focussed European SMEs, offering the possibility to take-on high-risk R&D projects with the aim of bringing new and impactful products to market. The Catalyze team provided support to Modern Synthesis throughout the preparation and writing of the ModernTex project proposal to Eurostars.
Sarah highlights the added value of having Catalyze’s support:
“With Catalyze, we were able to turn our long-term vision into a project proposal that succeeded in convincing Eurostars of the vast potential of ModernTex.”