The world’s most beautiful headphones are here, and they’re made of fungus.
These ‘microbe-grown’ headphones could be the future of sustainable electronics.
Korvaa is applying fresh-from-the-lab findings on everyday objects as a way of highlighting the research of novel, biologically engineered materials. The initiative brings together a mix of unique and surprising talent who all share a wish to jumpstart the development of these new, bio-based materials into future-proof, commercially viable products.
There is a global interest towards new, bio-based materials and their various applications. Earned media coverage around the initiative’s first project, a pair of Korvaa headphones, has reached a world-wide audience of over 350 million people.
Chosen as the initiative's first object for the combination of materials it comprises, and their properties: soft, hard, foamy and leather-like, the headset is also a highly relatable consumer product.
The headphones showcase the result of several different microbial processes used to create sustainable materials. Some of the materials produced and applied in the headphones have never before been used in industrial design objects.
The growth of the fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium creates a leather-like material.
A foaming protein, hydrophobin, is produced by the fungus Trichoderma reesei. It is nature’s strongest “bubble-maker” which aids fungal cells to grow into air from a moist soil. When the hydrophobin protein is mixed with plant cellulose, a stable foam is formed.
This sustainable microbially produced silk protein can be made to tough fibers for many different applications -even into bullet-proof material. In the electrospinning method, the negatively charged extrusion tip shoots the protein nanofibres to the positive charged plate, creating a nonwoven structure that can be, for example, made into a strong flexible yarn.
The 3D printed biodegradable plastic PLA is made from lactic acid that is produced by the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly known as baker’s yeast. In the future this bioplastic could be produced using CO₂ as feedstock.
This material consists of mycelium, the cells of the fungus Trichoderma reesei, which is grown in a bioreactor and mixed with microbially produced cellulose. The dried composite is hard and light.
Synthetic biology enables the design and engineering of new biological organisms, and the re-design of existing biological systems, for new purposes. Led by Professor Merja Penttilä and Dr. Géza Szilvay, the team of scientists in the Korvaa initiative have decades of experience working with microbial materials.
Engineered microbes can produce a variety of desired chemicals, materials, medicine or fuels from renewable raw materials, waste fractions and CO₂. This technology will have a paramount role in the transition from a fossil-based economy to a sustainable, circular bioeconomy.
From a design viewpoint, a headset combines various material properties in compact size and three-dimensional form, which made it an ideal first project to showcase bio-engineered materials.
For the team at multi-disciplinary design studio Aivan, working in an initiative that mixes applied sciences and industrial design also offered a glimpse into rapidly developing technologies, new ways of producing materials and the future of so-called living factories.
For the synbio scientists, industrial designers, artists and filmmakers in the Korvaa initiative, the process of working together has offered valuable insight into the implications of how these materials can be used across various industries.