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Scientists Are Turning Old Bread into New Textiles

Bread is definitely a good thing. Too much bread, however, is markedly less so.

Bread waste is a particular problem in Sweden, where 88,000 tons of cast-off carbs are disposed of every year, according to the University of Borås. That’s the equivalent 350 loaves per minute.

So researchers at the school decided to do something about it.

“We have seen that much of the food waste from grocery stores is from bread and therefore we wanted to see how we could turn it into a new product,” Akram Zamani, a senior lecturer in resource recycling at the University of Borås, said in a statement.

With the global demand for textiles skyrocketing, Zamani wondered if she could tackle two issues—the overproduction of bread and the need for more sustainable, non-petrochemical-based fabrics—in one fell swoop.

By placing different types of stale grocery-store bread in a bioreactor, she and her team were able to cultivate filamentous fungi for turning into yarn and non-woven textiles.

“When the bread has become a biomass of fungi, we remove the protein which in turn can be used as food or animal feed,” Zamani explained. “We use the cell-wall fibers that remain of the fungi partly to spin a yarn, and partly to create non-woven fabrics.”

The scientists are now exploring the potential of their fungal textiles for applications such as apparel, home textiles and medical textiles without the use of toxic chemicals.

“We have done a large part of the cultivation already, and it has worked well, so now we are working on a wet-spinning process to create yarn, and test different methods to improve the yarn’s properties,” Zamani said. “There is no previous research on this; therefore it is difficult to know what to expect.”

Financed by Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency, the research is supported by KTH Royal Institute of Technology, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and Sahlgrenska University Hospital.