Startup develops a way to convert waste methane into bio-polyester

The Blue Economy applied to fashion

in brief

Polyester is bad for our environment, many research studies say it. A few startups are working on tackling this issue. One of them is California-based Mango Materials, which recently found a way to convert waste methane into bio-polyester.

As previously explained in our guide for more sustainable materialspolyester is one of the most polluting materials to manufacture garments. Indeed, as it is manufactured from crude oil, it requires an energy-intensive process. Even worse, researchers are starting to uncover that even though some manufacturers are trying to reduce its impact by adding recycled polyester, from plastic bottles or other recycled plastic goods, these have the same environmental repercussions as new polyester! Worse, every wash releases plastic microfibers into waterways. Which leads to contaminated lakes and oceans, ingestion by animals and ultimately, plastic microfibers entering the food chain.

There comes Mango Materials, a startup hoping to use waste methane to grow bio-polyester based fully biodegradable clothing

Methane is well known for its greenhouse gas, which traps 25 times more heat than carbon dioxyde, but it also is useful, as a fuel and ingredient for plastics and fertilizers. What’s new? Californian startup Mango Materials has found a new use for methane: biodegradable clothing.

While it is still more expensive to produce compared to making plastic out of petroleum, the startup has explored what scientists have known for some time: under certain conditions, different types of bacteria can produce plastics called polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). These bio-polyester fibers can in turn be harvested from the bacteria and spun into thread, and finally be woven into cloth. To reduce its production costs, Mango Materials seeks to use waste methane to feed the bacteria.

“If we increase the value of waste methane, that could change the whole story of carbon in the atmosphere, because we’d be collecting it and sequestering it into products,” Morse told FastCompany in an interview.

Envisioning a closed-loop system for fashion in the future, Mango Materials CEO and co-founder Dr. Molly Morse says that this would allow us to compost our clothes, instead of just throwing it away, with the resulting methane emissions being in turn captured and used to produce new garments.

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