With recent funding from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, Modern Meadow a tissue engineering company has begun researching 3-D bioprinting methods for leather.
Modern Meadow originally started researching lab grown human tissue for medical applications, later they expanded to researching lab grown meat in response to the increasing global demand for meat which is estimated to double by 2050. With their accrued expertise they have recently turned their focus on leather production which is simpler and less controversial than lab produced meat. Their objective is to “create high grade animal protein without the need to raise, slaughter and transport livestock. Thus enabling to lower costs and inputs of land, water, chemicals and fossil fuels.”
“cultured meat expends 7-45 percent less energy than conventional farming methods; produces 78-96 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions; uses 99 percent less land; and requires 82-96 percent less water, depending on the meat types they compared” – Life cycle assessment of cultured meat production
But ultimately lab grown leather can offer significant reductions in environmental impact not only by replacing natural leather, but also by replacing synthetic leather which isn’t biodegradable.
At the recent Rio +20 summit last June, Puma chairman Jochen Zeitz spoke about how PUMA was seeking an alternative material to leather for its footwear. Mr. Zeitz said research had shown that leather is PUMA’s biggest environmental negative impact driver. Leather he said, was an environmentally damaging product because cattle and beef are among the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, deforestation and using up valuable water supplies.
Mr. Zeitz went on to suggest that maybe there could be an economic way of producing a leather-like product in the laboratory.
Maybe Modern Meadow will find a way soon.