Photo: Mango Materials

Creating biodegradable fabric from methane-eating bacteria

Startup Mango Materials is researching the use of bacteria in creating fabric

By using a greenhouse gas as the basis for a new material, Mango Materials wants to create a new model of garment production that cleans up the atmosphere as it makes us new clothes. Mango Materials co-founder and CEO Molly Morse, who started her research with methane-eating organisms as a graduate student at Stanford University, was originally looking for a bio adhesive to use in construction. The process made her think about different applications, including fabric for the apparel industry.

The process of turning bacteria into biodegradable fabric

garments created from the material spun from the Mango Materials yarn is fully biodegradable, leaving zero waste

At the center of the startup's work are microbes, which feed on waste methane — a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. Mango Materials is piloting its process working out of a shipping container at a municipal wastewater treatment plant in Silicon Valley, collecting the biogas from an anaerobic digester at the site and producing a substance that serves as the feedstock for the bacteria. As they grow denser, the solution takes on the consistency of a vanilla-strawberry milkshake (Mango Materials Schauer-Gimenez's description), which signals that it is time to harvest the poly-hydroxyalkanoate (PHA). It comes out as a powder that then can be turned into the end product, polymer pellets.

Right now, it takes a batch of 132 gallons worth of bacteria to create 10 pounds of polymer in a week, Schauer-Gimenez said. The goal of the pilot project is to improve the efficiency of the process, optimise the equipment used to turn methane into the solution, and test different applications for the fabric, including how quickly it takes to eventually break down.

Next to reducing spreading of methane waste, the process that Mango Materials is exploring has another potential benefit: the PHA’s are biodegradable. That means garments created from the material spun from the Mango Materials yarn — which potentially could be used in anything from backpacks to shoes to T-shirts — eventually will break down naturally (maybe over the course of a month, for example, for a lightweight shirt) when it is placed onto a compost pile, or harvested for recovery after it's worn.

Read the full article on greenbiz.com


Creating biodegradable fabric from methane-eating bacteria

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