Innovation That Matters

While there are several other makers of wood alternative materials, they rely mostly on plastic or other materials like flax, which can be expensive to harvest and can have other negative effects on the environment. | Photo source Symmetry

Sustainable, wood-like material made from Kombucha

Architecture & Design

The petroleum-free material is sustainably produced with algae and repurposed bacterial cellulose waste from Kombucha production

Spotted:  What if we could have access to wood without cutting down trees? This is what one of the national winners of this year’s James Dyson Award has invented. 

Chicago based 21-year-old Gabe Tavas is the inventor of Pyrus, a wood-like material that’s produced with the repurposed bacterial cellulose waste from Kombucha scobys (a bacteria and yeast culture). Unlike many wood-mimicking materials on the market, Pyrus is completely petroleum-free. 

Every piece of Pyrus wood is made with two essential ingredients: cellulose, which provides its basic shape and framework, and lignin, which has glue-like properties.

The cellulose is formed from the scoby sheets that grow when making Kombucha. The sheets require air, caffeine, and sugar to develop. The sugar can even be obtained from discarded food like rotten fruits and bread. “After I learned about bacterial cellulose, I started growing a supply of it using cultures bought online, water from my local Fab Lab, and apple slices from my university’s dining halls,” Tavas explained.

The sheets of cellulose are blended to an even consistency and then incorporated into an algae-based gel. As the gel dries, it hardens and is flattened with the use of a mechanical press to form sheets of wood. Just like tree-based materials, Pyrus can then be sanded, cut, and coated with resins. The samples are currently large and flat enough to be used to make jewellery, guitar picks and coasters. 

While there are several other makers of wood-alternative materials, they rely mostly on plastic or other materials like flax, which according to Tavas, can be expensive to harvest and can have other negative effects on the environment. 

With roughly €2,201 worth of prize money, provided by The James Dyson Award, Tavas plans to expand his production facilities and range of products. In the long term, Tavas hopes to formally establish his company, Symmetry, and finance further developments to render the cellulose material successful in the manufacturing of furniture and even buildings. 

Written By: Katrina Lane

Explore more: Sustainability | Food and Drink

Email: symmetry@illinoisenactus.com

Website: symmetrywood.com

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