Gary Cass, a creative scientist, and Donna Franklin, a textile artist, began experimenting with fermented liquid to create fabrics back in 2006 as a result of a mistake Cass and a group made at a friend’s winery in the early 1990s.
“We accidentally contaminated a vat of wine with a non-infection bacterium, Acetobacter, turning wine to vinegar with a slimy sludgy layer on the top of the vat that we threw out in disgust,” Cass explains. “[After] further researching this material, a decade on from our mistake, [we] found that the material was comprised mostly of cellulose fibers, chemically similar to cotton. It didn’t take too much to realize we could then make garments from this microbial cellulose material.”
Cass and Franklin’s research resulted in the Micro’be’ fermented fashion wine dresses. “The Beer Dress is an extension of the wine dresses with a different post-culture processing, ending in a more improved microbial cellulose material,” Cass adds.
Nanollose launched late last year with five shareholders all with the same dream: “changing the way we produce and wear textiles,” he says.
To explain the process of creating the material, Cass says they “harness the Acetobacter bacteria’s ability to turn liquid into fibers and biologically weave these fibers into a matrix on the surface of the liquid (wine or beer) vat.” A sheet forms as a result, and they simply pull the sheet—the microbial cellulose material—off the top of the vat and turn it into fermented fashion.
“To briefly explain how wine/beer is turned into fiber; picture that the Acetobacter bacteria contain similar genes to cotton plants and can convert alcohol/sugars into cellulose fibers. Cotton plants produce large cellulose fibers whereas Acetobacter bacteria produce nano-cellulose fibers,” he clarifies.
Among the advantages of Nanollose fibers are that it’s a naturally produced material that’s 100% biodegradable, and Cass claims it’s more eco-friendly compared to other natural and synthetic fibers. Other unique properties are that the fibers are lightweight and offer high purity and high density, shape retention, high water binding capacity, enhanced tensile strength and a large surface area, he adds. “The high density and nano-porosity of Nanollose’s microfibers packed into a strong flexible material gives a breathable fabric.
“Other advantages are the ability to vertically farm the Nanollose material. Acetobacter bacterial liquid vats can be stacked on top of each other ‘as high as the sky’ that will hopefully reduce Nanollose’s environmental footprint. A finite supply of global crude oil used as a fossil fuel for industrialization will limit the supply of petroleum for the manufacturing of synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyesters. Another issue that arises from the use of synthetic fibers in the textile industry is that many of the synthetic fibers are not biodegradable. The fashion world believes that the fibers use and disposal plays a significant role in its ecological impact with 50-80% of the fibers environmental footprint in its biodegradability. Nanollose is 100% biodegradable,” he continues.
While Cass doesn’t envision a future world that produces 100% Nanollose fibers, he’s hoping it will one day take the edge off the environmental impact of plant-based and protein fiber production.
“There is a rapid reduction of the world’s arable land and fresh water for irrigation due to present-day global production of plant-based and protein fibers. The Aral Sea’s eastern basin in Uzbekistan, once the fourth largest fresh water sea in the world, is dry for the first time in 600 years. Australia’s Murray-Darling basin is in crisis, due to the over use of this water system in the irrigation of agricultural food and fiber production. We don’t see ourselves as a replacement for plant-based or protein fibers, but as an alternative that may help take some of the environmental pressures off the present day fiber industries,” he explains.
In the future, he says the company will not use beer or wine. They will value-add to the waste products of them and other foodstuff industries.
In addition to garments like the beer dress and the wine dresses, Cass notes that modified Nanollose materials could possibly be used for applications like seamless fabrics, absorbents and sanitary products, medical products for burn treatment, or other high value advanced materials. “We found that the physical properties of the Nanollose fibers are similar in dimensions to the collagens fibers that give our bodies structure. Initial test have shown that we can successfully scaffold human tissue, giving us the ability to regrow human ear drums, liver cells and potential other human organs.”
In the meantime, the company is continuing to research and develop its eco-friendly nonwoven material and is hoping to realize its full potential in the near future.