‘Beer dress’: Could this innovation be an alternative to cotton?

In Gary Cass’s backyard shed in the northern suburbs of Perth, billions of bacteria are hard at work chugging down beer and wine.

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But their waste product, far preferable to the human equivalent after a few, is being harvested. It’s a cellulose material that once Gary Cass has finished with it, is very similar to cotton. 

And like cotton, it can be worn. 

Hence the beer dress.

Now in Milan, Italy as part of the Expo Milano, the dress has been made from the material produced by the beer-loving bacteria.

“The bacteria will harness the power of the bacteria to weave their fibres together into this non-woven material,” Mr Cass said. “We can harvest that.

“We can grow it in any shape we want, as thick as we want, as thin as we want and take it straight out of the vat, process it and put it straight onto the dress maker’s table to make into some garment.”

The material, which still needs some work – such as figuring out how to wash it – could be an alternative to cotton according to Mr Cass.

“We’re running out of fresh water and arable land,” he said. “A lot of people will predict that in 50 to 100 years we will not have enough fresh water in the world to grow our cotton plants so something has to happen.

“Now with our new material we can be this alternative.

“We can take some of the environmental pressure off the cotton industry and grow these in vats.

“And if we think about this as a bacterial fermentation of this material in vats, we can vertically farm this. We don’t have to use millions of acres of land to grow cotton.”

“We can grow it in any shape we want, as thick as we want, as thin as we want and take it straight out of the vat, process it and put it straight onto the dress maker’s table to make into some garment.”

Curtin University fashion and design lecturer Anne Farren said it was an exciting time in the garment industry with many new materials being explored.

“It’s just quite unfathomable to think, even soy milk,” she said.

“There’s a soy milk yarn that I’ve heard of and all sorts of materials are being investigated for their potential to create fabrics that we can wear.

“Those that are treated with nano-materials that are going to be anti-bacterial, resist the bacteria so you don’t have to wash your garments so much, or they’ll last longer or they’ll repel water so there’s huge potential for that investigation, which is very exciting.”

But if the fashion world is not interested in Mr Cass’s material, then he’s confident the medical world will be.

He said the material was similar to collagen and trials of using stem cells to grow eardrums and liver cells on it had proved successful.

“Imagine that we could 3D print ears, 3D print hearts, livers, and then use that 3D-printed microbial cellulose with human tissue grown on it,” he said. “To put that into a patient would be amazing.” 

He said he was also interested to see whether red-wine cellulose patches with their anti-oxidant properties could treat burns victims.

For now, Mr Cass and his business partners are hoping to find more funding to further their research and patent the process before they take it to the wider market.

 

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