UK-based biomaterials startup Modern Synthesis has raised $4.1 million in seed funding to support its microbial textile platform that aims to make the fashion industry more sustainable.
Shoe prototype in the lab by Modern Synthesis. Image credit: Modern Synthesis
Modern Synthesis’ microbial textile tech leverages bacteria to transform sugar from agricultural waste into nanocellulose, which is a biodegradable material valued for its abundance and its strength. The goal is to replace animal- and petrochemical-derived materials, helping the fashion industry lower its carbon footprint.
The microbial weaving process mimics the warp-and-weft technique of traditional weaving to create a customizable biomaterial in roughly 10 to 14 days. Staff at Modern Synthesis create a scaffold, using robotics to place fibers in the desired shape or structure. Genetically modified bacteria grow around those structures to create the final material. Similar to 3D printing and unlike traditional weaving pieces can be designed to shape, which means no scraps of leftover material and therefore no waste.
Instead of trying to create an exact replica for a material like leather, Modern Synthesis says it is focused on developing an entirely new kind of material – and in the process, build out an entirely separate category for materials.
Modern Synthesis isn’t just focusing on alternative materials. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to build a circular manufacturing system with these microbes,” says Keane, CEO at Modern Synthesis. “That enables us to leverage agricultural waste and use the microbes as manufacturing units and transfer them into more viable materials. On the flip side, we see the opportunity to have new-class materials that are fully cellulosic, so we can recycle them back into silos and recycling streams.”
More than 70% of the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions come from upstream processes such as raw material production, preparation, and processing.
“Our goal is to get these materials out in the world as quickly, widely, and responsibly as possible. And to do that, we need to leverage as many R&D resources as we can to speed up that process,” says Keane.