Clothes made of algae to become new trend in future: Research

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Clothes made of algae is a new trend after up-cycling and re-cycling waste materials like plastics. Algae is being taken as a new resource for the textile industry to produce fibres, finishes and dyes. Blooming algae can have cellulose or proteins and, the organisms may contain non-petrochemical oils in the form of micro-algae. For several years micro-algae have been able to manufacture compounds at an industrial scale in the food, drug and biofuels sectors. Now, this is being used by a new wave of businesses to produce textiles, clothing and footwear supplies.

Clothes made of algae

Image Credit: University of Rochester photo

Living materials made in the non-living matrix by biological cells have become prominent in recent times as scientists acknowledge that nature is also the most robust materials.

First used 3D printers and an innovative bio-printing technique for printing algae to live, hard-wearing, durable photosynthetic materials, the multinational research team from Rochester and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The study on how clothes made of algae is reported in Advanced Functional Materials.

What is Three-dimensional printing? 

Three-dimensional printing is a method of additive production that forms a digital-physical object. The process works in fluid form or plastic, metal or cement, combining thin layers of material and mixing them into one layer.

3D printing is a useful method for the manufacture of functional materials with enormous scope in various applications. 

Balasubramanian, Delft’s research associate, and the first author. “We have the first example of a photosynthetic substance which has been developed that is mechanically stable enough to be used in real-life applications.”

Also Read: Discovery of oldest water on earth; how it is helpful in finding unanswered questions of mankind

New materials from living and nonliving components

Representative Image
Image: Canva

To produce photosynthetic materials, the researchers began with an organic nonliving compound shaped and absorbed by bacteria. Even when bent, compressed, or mechanically warped, bacterial cellulose has many unique mechanical properties, including its strength, resiliency and form-keeping ability. 

When bacteria are tinted, cellulose is like paper in a printer. Live algae of bacterial cellulose were also deposited with a 3D printer.

Mixing living (micro-algae) and non-living components (bacterial cellulose), the material produced are unusual in that it has the photosynthetic consistency of its algae and is durable and adaptable; it is also eco-friendly, biodegradable and easy to manufacture and versatile. The plant-like nature of the substance ensures that it can be fed by photosynthesis for several weeks, and can be revived – a small sample of the material can be produced in the field to produce more materials.

Characteristics of Algae for clothing manufacture 

It is suitable for a wide range of uses, including new materials, such as artificial leaves, photosynthetic skin or photosynthetic activity bio garments, because of its special characteristics. 

Artificial leaves are materials that imitate the actual leaves by converting water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy using sunlight, similar to leaves during photosynthesis. They are a big driver of climate changes.

The leaves store energy as sugar, which can subsequently be turned into fuel. Therefore, artificial leaves provide a means of producing renewable energy where plants, including outdoor space colonies, do not well evolve. In comparison with the most commonly manufactured artificial leaf innovations, which are created through hazardous chemical processes, Delft and Rochester researchers often manufacture artificial leaves made of environmentally friendly materials.

Uses of the extracted material 

The materials are like using the best parts of the plants and leaves so that sustainable energy can be produced without using resources to harvest plants that require resources but do not generate energy.  Rochester associate professor of biology Anne S. Meyer said, “the materials are artificial leaves.  We produce content based only on renewable energy production.” 

Another use will be photosynthetic skins, which can be used for cutaneous grafts, says Meyer. “To begin the cure of a damaged area will be helped by the oxygen produced or by light-activated wound healing.”

The materials could transform the fashion industry as well as deliver renewable energy and medical treatments. Algae-made organic will counter some detrimental environmental consequences in the existing textile sector since they are high-quality materials manufactured and fully biodegradable for sustainability. 

They will also purify the environment by photosynthesis, which removes carbon dioxide and would not require washing as much as traditional clothing, which reduces water consumption.

“Our living materials are promising because they can survive for several days with no water or nutrients access, and the material itself can be used as a seed to grow new living materials,” says Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam, an associate professor of bio-nanoscience at Delft. “This opens the door to applications in remote areas, even in space, where the material can be seeded on site.”

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