Biomaterials Broken Down: Bio-what?

By: Veronica Suarez
July 24, 2023


          In recent years, the fashion industry has been swept up in an exciting wave of technological innovation: Biomaterials. However, the true essence of these biomaterials can be somewhat confusing to the average consumer. What exactly do these terms entail and how do they impact us and the environment? As several businesses claim their materials as “biobased” or “biosynthetic” to cater to environmentally conscious shoppers, the situation becomes further complicated. Defining these terms with precision has become a daunting challenge. To bring some much-needed clarity to the table, we’ve crafted an informative graphic that shows the nuances of biomaterials, biobased, biosynthetic, and biofabricated. Before delving deeper into this topic, we aim to simplify the understanding of these terms for our readers. By unraveling the layers of biomaterial technology, we hope to demystify the jargon and empower consumers to make informed choices. Stay tuned for upcoming articles that will explore the intricacies of this revolutionary intersection between fashion and technology.

Biomaterials Diagram


    Let’s unravel the outer ring in the figure above, focusing on the label biomaterial. In contemporary discourse, biomaterial has evolved into the umbrella term encompassing any material with a biological connection. This implies that the material was either created using biological ingredients or through natural processes. However, the nature of this definition has introduced challenges, particularly in regards to marketing. As a consumer, using caution during independent research is crucial given the wide array of materials that could technically fall under this umbrella. It’s noteworthy to mention that the term biomaterials takes on a completely different meaning within the medical context. In medicine, biomaterials are designed to interact with biological systems, for instance, a pacemaker. In this article, we are not referring to this medical aspect but rather focusing on materials made from natural ingredients or processes in the context of fashion & sustainability.


     When a product bears the label of being biobased, it signifies that it is crafted wholly or partially from natural substances. These can range from animal products to the repurposed remnants of fruits and vegetables. This term doesn’t necessarily imply complete natural origin; a product made with a mere 1% natural substances and 99% synthetic components can still claim to be biobased. Recently, the USDA has introduced the Biopreferred Program. According to this program, a product must contain a minimum of 25% biobased content to qualify. This distinction shows a commitment to a more substantial integration of natural elements into the overall composition of a product. 


        In defining the distinction between biofabricated and biosynthetic materials, it’s crucial to recognize that a material can be biofabricated without being biosynthetic and vise-versa. Let’s simplify this by illustrating the concept through an example. Consider two water bottles, A and B, both sharing the exact same chemical formula. Despite this similarity, Bottle A is deemed biosynthetic while Bottle B is not. Here’s the nuance: both bottles contain potassium as a chemical component. However, the source of the potassium differs. In Bottle A, the potassium is derived from natural ingredients, such as bananas. Meanwhile, in Bottle B the potassium is artificially created in a laboratory using fossil fuels. Consequently, even though both bottles are constructed from the same chemical elements, Bottle A is deemed biosynthetic due to its incorporation of naturally sourced potassium. Bottle B falls short of this classification due to the use of artificially made potassium.


        Biofabrication is straightforward— if something is biofabricated, it means it was grown utilizing cells, tissues, organs, or bacteria. To illustrate, mycelium-based leather is a biofabricated material. In this instance, the leather is grown by using mycelium spores & agricultural waste. Once the material begins to grow there is no need for supplementary steps or interventions (In some cases there may be). In contrast, Soarceleather made from seaweed— despite its natural origin, does not qualify as biofabricated because the seaweed did not organically become leather; there are multiple steps in the manufacturing process needed to create the seaweed-based leathers.


         The fashion industry’s growing interest in biomaterials has sparked enthusiasm for sustainable alternatives. However, the pervasive misinformation regarding terms like “biobased” and “biosynthetic” has created confusion among potential investors, consumers, and businesses alike. Through upcoming articles and posts on our social media, we are committed to diving deeper into this concept, with the goal of providing education that empowers the public to make informed choices. It’s important for consumers to recognize that not all products labeled as “biobased” are inherently more environmentally friendly than other alternatives. Our mission is to unravel these distinctions and provide the individual a comprehensive understanding of the products they choose to support. By shedding light on these nuances, we aspire to contribute to a more informed and conscientious consumer base.

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