OUR METHOD

TECHNOLOGY TYPES

Mechanical/Chemical: Material is made via mechanical and/or chemical means. Innovators use a wide variety of inputs including fruits, fungus, leaves, and bark to create materials for a range of applications.

Mycelial Growth: Material is made primarily of mycelium, the ‘roots’ of mushrooms, grown on plant waste

Microbial Cultivation: Microorganisms are grown in a culture medium to produce a biomaterial / biopolymer. Innovators use a variety of microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, yeast) and many types of culture medium to create materials with different properties.

Precision Fermentation: The DNA code to create a specific protein (e.g., spider silk, collagen) is inserted into bacteria. The bacteria then consume plant wastes to produce the desired protein. This process is also called recombinant DNA technology and is used to make insulin, vaccines, and rennet, among many other biotech products. 

Cultivation: Cultivation involves taking skin cells from an animal, allowing those cells to grow and divide in a medium that provides the necessary nutrients, and then seeding the cells onto a scaffolding for further growth. Cultivating skin cells in this way produces actual leather, but without the cow.

WHO IS INCLUDED?

Our mission is to support the next gen material industry in producing materials that meet the quality, price, scale, and sustainability needs of the fashion, home goods, and automotive industries. Although there are few hard and fast rules to determine which companies to include, we do prefer those that limit the use of virgin petroleum-based raw materials. Our 2020 landscapes include some companies using recycled petroleum-based materials, however. As more innovators enter the next gen material industry, we will revise our landscapes accordingly.

Quality

We are looking for true replacements to animal materials. Many interesting products are similar, but don’t meet necessary industry standards. Some products might be like leather, but do not meet the sensory or tactile specifications for every leather application. Similarly, many plant-based yarns can be woven like wool, but do not meet the sensory or tactile specifications for all wool applications. We include all materials that show promise, even if they don’t meet specifications for every application.

Price

Most alternative materials are currently at higher price points than animal materials. New technologies generally come with a higher price tag, but with more innovation and competition, the prices will go down. We have not excluded any company based on the price of their material.

Scale

A big issue facing many of these companies is their ability to scale. Some companies on our landscapes are in the research and development phase. Others are working on pilot projects, and still others are producing products. We have not excluded any company based on their phase or current production capacity. Our hope is that innovation will solve scaling challenges.

Sustainability

We include companies producing materials that are more sustainable than animal materials in the long run. We don’t include the dozens of companies worldwide producing replacements for animal materials using solely virgin petroleum polymers, for example. Our goal is not to move the market away from one material with a negative environmental impact to another, even if that new material is animal free. We evaluate the environmental impact of materials and technologies by considering use of water, energy, land, and chemicals; emissions; resource depletion; biological waste; animal welfare; and end of life including biodegradability, compostability, and recyclability.

OPPORTUNITY

There is plenty of opportunity for innovation in each material category. If a section is blank, it means we are not aware of any companies producing an equivalent material using that technology. Not every technology is appropriate for every material type. Silk alternatives, for example, are unlikely to be made with mycelium, because precision fermentation allows for a far better solution. In exotic skins, the field is wide open. 

If you are an entrepreneur, scientist, or investor interested in this industry, please reach out to us here

INNOVATOR PROFILES

We continue to publish profiles of the innovators on our landscapes. Please sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media to receive updates on the latest profiles.

ARE WE MISSING AN INNOVATOR?

Do you know of a company making a non-animal alternative to leather, silk, wool, down, fur, and exotic skins that is not currently on our landscapes? Please let us know here.

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© 2019 Material Innovation Initiative