James Dyson Award-Winning Pyrus Wood-Mimicking Material is Made From Kombucha Waste

Wood consumption in anthropogenic activities has jeopardized our forests deeply. While the invention of synthetic wood has lessened the burden on the forests, these materials cause other environmental issues. However, University of Illinois student Gabe Tavas has developed Pyrus, a petroleum-free, synthetic wood-like material that is made from kombucha waste.

This alternative wood substitute, sustainably produced with repurposed bacterial cellulose waste from the kombucha industry, has been awarded this year’s national James Dyson Award. Reportedly, the organization will invest $2,600 into the project, which Tavas hopes to use to magnify the production and develop 3D printing capabilities to print Pyrus into larger objects.

This wood-mimicking material combats deforestation by replacing exotic woods that are vanishing from rainforests such as the Amazon. Tavas became deeply aware of this problem after living in an indigenous community in Ecuador.

Maintaining the versatility of wood, it can be laser cut, CNC machined and sanded to a smooth finish to produce jewelry, functional guitar picks, a coaster or other small products. Pyrus is a dense wood alike that does not trace any origins back to trees and does not use any petroleum-based or toxic chemicals.

Petroleum-Free Synthetic Wood Pyrus is Made from Kombucha Waste

Image: James Dyson Award

To craft Pyrus, Tavas began to grow a supply of bacterial cellulose using cultures he purchased online, water and apple slices in his dorm room. The bacteria fed off the apples to create cellulose sheets at the surface over the course of a few weeks. These sheets were then extracted and blended to an even uniformity before being rooted in an algae-based gel.

This gel significantly dries and is then placed under a mechanical press to form a flat sheet of wood. After collaborating with a community of food businesses to provide food waste, Tavas produced 74 Pyrus wood samples over the past year in a variety of colors and textures.

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