Event report

January 24, 2021

What products actually improve the environment through their production process? Learning from Mycotech Lab and Indonesia’s Circular Ecosystem

Vegan leather has been attracting attention as a new material with low environmental impact amidst the global call for sustainability. While most of the vegan leathers developed so far use chemical materials as adhesives, Mycotech Lab, an Indonesian bio-startup, has developed a vegan leather that uses plant fibers, such as agricultural waste, as raw materials which then utilize the mushroom mycelium as an adhesive.

In July 2020, FabCafe Kuala Lumpur invited Mycotech Lab as a guest to a talk event held as part of the “FabFuture” initiative to create a sustainable society 30 years from now, which led to an exhibition of mushroom leather and products at FabCafe Kyoto from December to January 2020. An exhibition of mushroom leather and products was held at FabCafe Kyoto from December to January 2020, and on January 15, 2021, the Material Meetup KYOTO vol.15 “Sustainable Materials Frontline: Touching Mushroom Leather” was held. The guests were Ronaldiaz Hartantyo, co-chair of Mycotech Lab, and Kazutoshi Tsuda, who is working on biomaterials at Kyoto Institute of Technology KYOTO Design Lab. This article reports on the discussions that took place at the event.

The video of the event is also archived, so please check it out if you are interested! (The Mycotech Lab presentation is in English, surround contents use a mix of Japanese and English)

Kosuke Kinoshita (top left), the organizer of the event/exhibition and interviewer, Tsuda (top right), who researches biomaterials at KYOTO Design Lab, and Ronaldiaz (center), co-president of Mycotech Lab.

Related Projects: FabFuture(FabCafe Kuala Lumpur)

With the world’s population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, FabFuture is a project being undertaken by FabCafe Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia with the aim of exploring, designing, and innovating solutions for a self-reliant future. They are currently experimenting with biomaterials such as coconut shells and tea leaves to produce materials that can be used as alternatives to plastics, new urban agriculture technologies, future www.rustburgpharmacy.com waste management technologies, and innovations in energy and water supply systems.

Mycelium was the focus of the Kuala Lumpur team’s spotlight in this project. As a solution to the problem of agricultural waste, and to convey the potential of a new material structure that is strong and light, including a replacement for leather products, we held a Fab Meetup KL with Mycotech Lab as our guest.

Inspired by tempeh, an Indonesian fermented soybean food, Mycotech Lab succeeded in creating a brick-like building material by hardening fibers with mushroom mycelium. The company then developed Mylea, a vegan leather using mushroom mycelium, and has been operating a mushroom leather factory in Indonesia in collaboration with a local farm, creating jobs in the community by working with the local community. The company is now collaborating with Indonesian fashion designers and others to develop a variety of products.

 

The first time Mylea appeared on the runway with mushroom leather

 

Ronaldiaz says that one of the things he paid attention to while developing his mushroom leather was the environmental impact of cattle breeding and production. The vegan leather “Mylea” is not only free of animal products, but also has a manufacturing process that does not impact the environment.

Tsuda mentioned the importance of not only making vegan leather, but also creating a system to do so. The vegan leather developed by Mycotech Lab is produced by using mycelium to connect waste products from agriculture, such as wheat bran, and bark from forestry. He pointed out that in order to engage in activities like Mycotech Lab’s, it is necessary to think about collaboration with agriculture and forestry at the same time, and to create a system that connects the production and disposal processes of each.

This is not limited to vegan leather. Designing for production, consumption, and disposal by expanding our stakeholders to the social level is a perspective that is necessary for all kinds of manufacturing in the future. However, in the future, the major challenge will be how to seamlessly connect each other’s activities in the current industrial structure, where each production activity is fragmented, just as the activities of agriculture and industry are not related to each other in Japan today.
While industrial products have been considered virtuous in the past for producing long-lasting products in large quantities, with the same quality, and at low cost, how should we think about their use-by date as we develop sustainable industrial products in the future? And at the same time, how should we prioritize our value criteria when “how to dispose” has not been given much thought?

Tsuda said that approaches such as Fab and Maker approaches are quite effective to understand precisely the life cycle of such things. As the division of labor in industry has progressed, we are only partially involved in things. He pointed out that by being involved in the process from production to disposal ourselves, we can learn, for example, what kind of materials are made, how they are used, how they are finally disassembled, and what responsibilities accompany these activities.

The terms “Fab” and “Makers’ Movement” have often been taken in a limited sense of “making your own things by yourself,” as an individual’s creative activity. However, by positioning it again as an important approach to the sustainability of production activities, we can see several important points for future industries.

The efficiency and division of labor in modern society has brought about mass production and stable supply. At the same time, however, the division of labor has led to a high degree of specialization in each process, making it difficult to complement each other or to make flexible changes when problems arise in any part of the process. The use of digital technology and the sharing of open data, knowledge, and means will give citizens the power to create their own products, allowing individuals to challenge ideas and experiments that have been discarded in the past for reasons such as cost and standards. In addition, the open sharing of these ideas may lead to breakthroughs in solving problems and difficulties in the manufacturing process.

Tsuda (right) eagerly observes Mylea at the Mycotech Lab exhibit. Since 2020, Mr. Tsuda has been working at the Kyoto Institute of Technology KYOTO Design Lab to develop materials that utilize the power of microorganisms and fungi.

As the world works toward a sustainable society through the SDGs, Carbon Zero, and other initiatives, regulations and rules are being created in many countries. At the same time, however, as mandatory rules and evaluation criteria are set from the top down, people often can become obsessed with how to meet these criteria, and this can eventually become detached from the question of whether or not we are essentially practicing sustainable production activities.

In this respect, Mycotech Lab’s practice is to present their own evaluation criteria. As a startup, Mycotech Lab is constantly experimenting and verifying, and by providing evidence of their own effectiveness, they are creating a place where they can be evaluated.


The latter in particular seems to reflect Ronaldiaz’s perspective and values as an architect who has been involved in community design that connects with nature.

In order to present our own evaluation axes, we need to start small. And rather than waiting to be given an evaluation axis, we should present one. This would also mean verbalizing and quantifying the vision and values we are aiming for.

At the end of the discussion, Tsuda said, “It is important to think human-centered and to coexist with people instead of exploiting them. No matter how sustainable a material is, it is meaningless to produce a lot of it. I think it is important to produce as much as necessary and return it to the land.” In his talk, Tsuda repeatedly used the phrase “using the power of microorganisms and bacteria.”

“We don’t dispose of anything. What both of them have in common is a new form of production that recycles resources rather than using them. What they have in common is a new form of production that recycles resources rather than using them. This can be described as practicing a circular economy, where things that used to be discarded are now considered resources and are being used again without producing waste.”

Of course, resources are limited, but at the same time, in this day and age when social and economic norms are changing day by day all over the world, there are too many things that cannot be handled with a one-way mass production approach. Now is the time to create a flexible system of production and consumption, sharing knowledge from around the world.

Related link: “Circular Economy Map” now available

Bandoh Chemical Co., Ltd. is a pioneer in the manufacture of rubber and elastomer products and has been in business for over 110 years. In order to create a new business from a medium- to long-term perspective, the company engaged in a business search using co-creation methods with a team from outside the company. The “Circular Economy Map” created through this project is now available to the public. Please download it and take a look!

>>Download the Circular Economy Map (Japanese only)

The theme of Material Meetup vol. 16, an online talk event to be held on Tuesday, January 26, will be domestic timber.

The value of domestically produced wood can be designed not only in terms of individual materials and costs, but also in a continuous and cyclical relationship with various other activities, such as “cultivating” forests, “using” products made from wood, “repairing” tools once they have served their purpose, and “passing on” techniques and culture. I believe that it can be designed in a continuous and cyclical relationship with various activities. The event will include speakers Ms. Sachiko Matsuyama and Mr. Takuya Tsutsumi of Perspective, a general incorporated association that creates a recycling system by linking forestation and crafts, and Mr. Fumihiko Sano, an architect who creates spaces that make the most of the expression of wood based on his experience as a sukiya carpenter. The discussion is sure to give you new insights into the use of wood!

Online] Material Meetup KYOTO vol.16 “Rediscovering the benefits of domestic wood from a “circular” perspective” – feat. WOOD CHANGE EXHIBITION in Kyoto

A talk event to explore the new value and appeal of domestically produced wood from the perspective of the “Circular Economy”. (*This meetup will be held in conjunction with the exhibition “WOOD CHANGE Exhibition in Kyoto – Ideas to Change the Perspective and Image of Wood -“ currently being held at FabCafe Kyoto from 1/15 to 1/30.

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    This articles is edited by FabCafe Global.

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