Many different microorganisms (such as fungi, cellulose producing bacteria) are being explored as the sources of sustainable materials, and especially for textiles. Almost without exception though, these organisms are, like ourselves, chemoheterotrophs, that is they are unable to fix carbon to form their own organic compounds and have to obtain energy and biochemical building blocks by ingesting those produced by other organisms. For example, the fungi and bacteria that are used to grow textile materials require a food stock, that is a rich soup of nutrients, that derive from other plant and animal products, and thus their sustainability might be questionable. To the contrary, photosynthetic bacteria and algae, are photoautrophs being able Such organisms derive their energy for food synthesis from light and carbon for the synthesis biochemical building block from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Consequently, photoautotrophs can produce biomaterials from little more than sunlight, water and air. It is my belief then, that only photoautotrophs can offer a truly sustainable source for future biomaterials and textiles. An example of such a holophytic approach is detailed below.
Cladophora is a genus of reticulated filamentous and photosynthetic green algae. Commonly known as blanket weed, this is a very common and cosmopolitan pond algae, and the dense growth of its hair-like green strands that float under, or on the surface, can be a major nuisance in decorative ponds.
Now seems the time to reconsider this organism, to repurpose it and to make use of its remarkable properties. Cladophora is an extraordinarily fast growing filamentous algae and can grow up to two meters a day. It is also photosynthetic and thus removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This algae also grows in the form of long microfilaments that form a dense green mat which naturally suggests that it could form a sustainable and carbon dioxide abstracting source of fibres for clothing which might be used to replace polyester, wool or cotton, for example (see below).
Scientists at C-MOULD are investigating different strains of Cladophora for their suitability for the production of sustainable textiles, for example, for growth rate, ease of culture and tensile strength. The strain here is the Bramfield strain, isolated from the pond of friends who live in this Suffolk village.
The process begins by teasing out a small section of a natural mat of the Blanket Weed (Cladophora) called a Ceedling (this name derives the fact this small part of the mat acts a clone and seed from which further mats are grown.
The Ceedlings are then introduced into shallow growth containers where they form dense mats over a period of 4 weeks (see below).