Help the Planet with Lab Grown Leather?
Animal cruelty factors along with the environmentally harmful effects associated with the tanning and production of animal (cow) leathers are well known, particularly in developing countries. Many exciting, environmentally friendly leather alternatives, such as leather materials made from pineapple fibres, have been recently explored. Now, a recent innovation has made it possible to develop and custom design leather materials within a laboratory and without the need for animals to be slaughtered.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, the technology of lab grown leather is being developed by Modern Meadow, who are taking advantage of recent advances in cell engineering technologies. In a recent TEDTalk, Andras Forgacs from Modern Meadow explains the process biofabricating genuine leather (and meat) without cruelty and with less pollution.
The process involves first extracting skin cells from an animal – cow, lamb, etc.- via a biopsy. These skin cells are extracted humanely, without harming the animal. They next isolate the skin cells and multiply them in a cell culture medium. The millions of cells are expanded into billions. These cells are coaxed to product collagen, a natural connective tissue between cells, like they do nature. The cells and collagen are then spread out to form sheets. The sheets are layered to form thicker sheets and left to mature. The multi-layered skin that results is finally put and through a shorter and much less chemical tanning process and leather is created as a result. Because it is made of the same cells, this biofabricated leather has the same characteristics as genuine leather, without the waste.
The company is able to currently grow 2 cm by 3 cm pieces of leather. They are launched a limited production later this year and are looking to achieve large market production in about five years.
Aside from a reduction in pollution and animal cruelty, lab grown leather also offers the opportunity to improve upon the material properties of leather. For example, lab grown leathers could be engineering to be more lightweight, durable, breathable, insulating or with different patterns, whilst retaining the authenticity of animal leather.