Could this pineapple leaf material revolutionize the leather industry?

Could this pineapple leaf material revolutionize the leather industry?
Could this pineapple leaf material revolutionize the leather industry?

Would you mind using some pineapple to make a coat? An unusual innovation was the subject of a study published in the fall of 2023 in the journal Sustainability, before being summarized in a press release published in mid-June on the Asia Research News site and spotted by New Atlas. Researchers at Mahidol University (Thailand) have developed a “green leather” which is up to sixty times stronger than some of the plant materials available on the market. Created from discarded pineapple leaf fibers and natural rubber, this strong and durable material could be used to make bags, clothing and shoes.

The real novelty is the resistance of the material

It is thanks to a simple process, which eliminates chemical treatment and the use of plastic, that Thai researchers have created this 100% biosourced leather. It therefore consists of pineapple leaf fibers, while natural rubber was used for grip. “This innovation presents a sustainable and economically viable alternative to traditional leather. It has the potential to revolutionize the leather industry and contribute to a more environmentally friendly future”detail the members of the team led by Professor Taweechai Amornsakchai, who were delighted with progress “significant”.

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10 great discoveries that have advanced science

Alternatives to animal leather already exist. In spring 2022, we reported on the existence of these “vegan leathers” developed through the reuse and transformation of certain plants such as grapes, apples or mushrooms. But until now, these innovations have continued to face significant challenges. Indeed, although the existence of these materials constitutes good news for animal welfare, this is not necessarily the case for our planet. Their production depends on plastic and their lifespan is relatively short due to their lack of tear resistance.

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The tenacity of the leather presented in this study is said to be more than sixty times greater than that of vegetable leather made from MuSkin mushrooms produced by the Italian company Grado Zero Espace. Also, its tear resistance would be almost twice as high as that of “Piñatex” pineapple leaf leather developed by the Spanish company Ananas Annam.

A methodical approach

If the material developed by Thai researchers seems to be the perfect candidate for strength and wear, it is thanks to the process of extracting the tiny fibers, as well as the preparation they undergo. First, the leaves will be cleaned and cut into pieces 6 mm wide. Once dried, these will be ground to obtain a thick green paste. A sieve will then separate the coveted fibers from non-fibrous substances.

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Other steps will follow, including the integration of sodium hydroxide. Different properties of the leather will then come to light and be displayed on a screen print: a process similar to that of making paper. One of the final steps will be to apply a thin layer of natural latex to the flattened non-woven fiber sheets, which will be exposed to a temperature of 70°C for 24 hours and then compressed.

The leather sheets will then be treated with a wide variety of natural dyes, which range from the color of carrot to coffee. A process which proves that it is possible to do without the toxic chemicals generally used in leather tanning. Professor Taweechai Amornsakchai’s team, which does not intend to stop there, aims to improve the feel of its material so that its softness approaches that of animal leather.

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