Sustainability is a growing trend in the fashion industry, with the understanding that the use of biobased materials can help brands and companies reduce their carbon footprint and diversify their supply chains. Engineering biology brings the potential to use different feedstocks (including end-of-life material) to biofabricate valuable materials for the textile industry as dyes, polyesters, among other materials. [Please see Biofabricate, 2021 as a valuable resource.]
A number of biotechnology companies are producing biomaterials and using bioprocessing for the textile industry, including Bolt Threads, Huue, and Spiber; these include mycelium-based leather like fabrics, biosynthetic indigo dye for denim, and engineered microbial fermentation of silk proteins, respectively. This bioproduction is primarily limited by the ability to scale, diversifying the feedstocks and organisms that contribute to production, and ensuring that the products and byproducts of the process are not harmful to the biological components inside and outside the system. Like with other biomaterials, physical properties of the precursors and products also need to be carefully tuned.
Breakthrough Capabilities & Milestones
Industrial-scale production of sustainable textile dyes and pigments.
Discover and develop microbial metabolites and plant biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) to widen the range of biopigments.
Plant genomes are inherently complex.
Potential Solution: Leverage metabolomics and other -omics technologies to discover and characterize the functions of plant BGCs.
Bottleneck/Challenge: Some pigment-producing microbes also produce toxins (e.g., mycotoxin) as a byproduct.
Potential Solution: Bioprospect for non-toxic strains.
Potential Solution: Characterize and engineer metabolic pathways of pigment-producing microbes to reduce toxin production.
Engineer microbes to produce dyes with comparable or better color stability and brightness than synthetic dyes.
The same pigment produced from different bacterial strains does not show the same color stability when applied to certain textile fibers.
Potential Solution: Better characterize the interactions between biobased dyes and different textile fibers.
Bottleneck/Challenge: Certain biopigments (e.g., red) have lower color stability.
Potential Solution: Engineer biochemical protection strategies for less stable biopigments.
Enable commercial-scale production of sustainable biobased textile dyes.
The inherent toxicity of many textile dyes limit the maximum titer for microbially-produced dyes.
Potential Solution: Engineer microbes that use compartmentalization, efflux, and other stress-resistance strategies.
Potential Solution: Engineer extremophiles for use in dye production.
Bottleneck/Challenge: Repeatability of biobased dyes.
Potential Solution: Develop standardized protocols for dyeing textiles with a given biobased dye.
Introduce color by engineering physical attributes into biomaterials (i.e., fabrics that can change color in response or on demand).
Constraints of polymers that possess both the desired textile properties and color properties.
Potential Solution: Better understand properties of textile materials that are inherently pigmented to recreate/engineer those properties into other materials.
Commercial-scale production of sustainable biofabricated textiles.
Enable the sustainable biosynthesis of biopolymer alternatives to synthetic fibers (e.g., polyester, nylon, and acrylic).
Feedstocks for many biosynthetic fibers (e.g., polylactic acid) compete with food crops.
Potential Solution: Develop processes to make biosynthetic fibers that use waste or non-food biomass as feedstocks.
Bottleneck/Challenge: Due to its relative novelty, environmental and economic assessments on biosynthetic fibers are limited.
Potential Solution: Develop comprehensive TEA and LCA for biobased textile alternatives to identify points in biopolymer production that are carbon and energy intensive.
Enable industrial-scale, sustainable fermentation or growth and processing of currently available biomaterials (e.g., mycelium, hemp, lyocell) at scale.
Bottleneck/Challenge: Inefficient, or undeveloped, bioprocessing for fiber removal, softening, etc.
Enable industrial-scale production of biosynthetic spider silk fibers to make textile fabrics.
Unlike natural spider silk, biosynthetic spider silk proteins (spidroin) need to be first spun into fibers to make fabric.
Potential Solution: Engineer host systems to produce spidroin in an environment that mimics the silk gland of spiders.
Bottleneck/Challenge: Spidroins produced by chassis organisms like E.coli and yeast are smaller and weaker than native spidroins.
Potential Solution: Extensively characterize and engineer the metabolic pathways responsible for spidroin production in chassis organisms to maximize spidroin size.
Design of new protein-, carbohydrate-, or lipid-based and hybrid materials that outperform synthetic fibers.
Currently accessible protein and carbohydrate design space is limited.
Potential Solution: Could be alleviated by incorporation of unnatural amino acids; need new control for design of new/complex carbohydrates.
- Biofabricate. (2021). Understanding “Bio” Material Innovations Report. Biofabricate and Fashion for Good 2021.pdf | Powered by Box. https://app.box.com/s/amjq9anszv8hvwdexoxg6wubes4aaxqa
Last updated: September 19, 2022