Tufts researchers develop leather alternative from silk, chitosan

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In Boston, researchers at Tufts have created a 3D printed leather alternative using silk and various wastes. The process mixes silk fibers with a plasticizer and vegetable gum thickener. Chitosan—a seafood industry waste—is added for hardness. The resulting material is recyclable and biodegradable. 

“Our work is centered on the use of naturally-derived materials that minimize the use of toxic chemicals while maintaining material performance, so as to provide alternatives for products that are commonly and widely used today,” says study co-author Fiorenzo Omenetto.  

The innovation could significantly reduce the environmental impact of the leather industry, which not only involves cows—heavy-methane emitters that require large amount of land and water—but also toxic chemicals during the tanning process. 

 “By using silk, as well as cellulose from textile and agricultural waste and chitosan from shellfish waste, and all the relatively gentle chemistries used to combine them, we are making progress towards our goal,” Omenetto adds.