Columbia professors develop groundbreaking, dirt-based textile


In New York, two Columbia University professors have developed a textile that is 60% comprised of soil and suitable for making clothes. Dubbed BioEarth, the material was codesigned by Penmai Chongtoua and Professor Lola Ben-Alon of the Natural Materials Lab at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning. It is thin and strong with a “leathery feel and a slight sandiness.”

The first generation of BioEarth was stiff, but later iterations gained flexibility when blended with bioplastics from corn starch, cellulose, and algae.  “Finally, we found a recipe composition that has over 60% of soil—so the majority of the material is still soil-based,” says Chongtoua, “but it is a flexible, wearable, movable piece of fabric.”

The fabric is strong enough to be laser-cut, embroidered, and machine-sewed. The team hopes to continue advancing the strength and flexibility of BioEarth so that it can replace mainstream textiles like cotton.