Colouring Fabrics Using Bacteria - A Sustainable Textile Dyeing Solution

I was reading a couple of articles about the latest innovation done in sustainable textile dyeing. Biotechnology companies are working on developing sustainable solutions for dyeing textile material. One such example is Colorifix’s innovation. They have applied the bacteria's color-changing ability to develop their dyeing innovation. This article will show you an overview of how textiles can be coloured using Bacteria.

How do bacteria work in making colours? 

According to the sources, Colorifix has made pigments using genetic code taken from plants, dragonflies, and gorillas, among others, using DNA information sourced from scientific studies. "We don't like bothering animals," he adds.

Colorifix inserts the genetic information that directs the color-making process into a bacterial cell, which copies itself every 25 minutes. The bacteria are fed with sugar molasses and nitrogen -- by-products of the agricultural industry -- in a fermenting machine, where the cells multiply in number, each making more pigment.

Yarkoni likens the fermentation process to making beer, "but instead of making alcohol, we're making the pigments."

While the conventional industry mixes primary colors to create a range of shades, Yarkoni says Colorifix makes "true" pigments.

Image credit: Colorifix

The benefit of the new solution

Colorifix has developed 23 hues so far. "So for instance, our purple is a true purple, not a mixture of blue and red".

using biotechnology to create sustainable shades

While other bacteria-based dye innovations rely on vast amounts of water and chemicals to isolate pigments from bacteria and make and apply the dye, Colorifix puts the bacteria straight onto the fabric to color it. The fabric is heated, causing the microorganisms' membranes to burst and release the color, which chemically attaches to the fiber. The remnants of bacteria cells are then washed off -- but the color remains.

Yarkoni says that an added benefit of his technology is that it cuts down on transport pollution -- one factor behind the fashion industry's huge carbon footprint.

Rather than transporting large quantities of dye, Colorifix can send just five grams of color-packed bacteria to a dyehouse. Orr claims the microorganism will multiply and that after 10 days, the factory will be able to produce 50 tonnes of dye solution a day.

About Colorifix: 
Colorifix is based in Norwich, in the east of England, produces dyes that are inspired by "nature's blueprints." But the technology does not derive pigments straight from plants or animals, like traditional natural dyeing methods. Instead, it copies nature's processes in a lab setting, by replicating the "DNA message" that codes for color in an organism. Yarkoni claims Colorifix is the only biotechnology startup that aims to transform dye production and application. 

A growing movement

Biotechnology is changing the way we make clothes. Colorifix is not the only company using biotechnology to create sustainable shades. There are a few more working in this area.

Israeli firm Algalife is growing non-toxic dyes with algae. Algalife is a new alternative material, turning algae into healthy dyes in a 100% clean & closed-loop system, inside-out good fabric. The algae-based dyes and fibers are not only good for our planet by having a positive environmental footprint than traditional processes but, are also good for our skin and body.

French startup Pili uses a similar fermentation process to Colorifix to make color. PILI is growing a new generation of renewable colors so we will soon be able to enjoy the magnificiency of colors without harming the planet. CEO Jeremie Blache says that Pili's process, though still at the trial stage, is projected to use 80% less water and produce 90% less carbon emissions, than conventional dye-making methods. 

Read Kukka's project to have more insight into how they use bacteria pigments for colouring fabrics. Living colour: dyeing textiles with dancing bacteria

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