Dyson Award Winner Makes Wood From Kombucha

Pyrus is an alternative for exotic woods.

Sep 6, 2021
Dyson Award Winner Makes Wood From Kombucha | Pyrus is an alternative for exotic woods.

Exotic woods like mahogany are extremely beautiful and rare. Wouldn’t it be amazing if wood can be produced without cutting down any trees? That’s exactly what Gabe Travis set out to accomplish when he created a sustainable wood alternative, Pyrus from kombucha waste.

This invention just won a 2021 US James Dyson Award for the 21-year-old University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign student, according to Electrek. The prestigious award that challenges young people to design something that solves a problem, runs in 28  countries and regions around the globe and is open to engineering or design students. Pyrus will advance to the international stage of the Dyson Awards and the winners will be announced on November 17, 2021. 

Travis credits his inspiration to the time he lived in an indigenous community in Ecuador before entering college according to his Dyson Award presentation. There, he became interested in deforestation and the environment.

That’s why he began working with bio design and this led to his creation of the wood substitute which is made from repurposed cellulose waste from kombucha. “By serving as a replacement for wood, Pyrus could help keep trees standing so they can continue to create conditions favorable for green energy,” Travis told Electrek.

Pyrus is made from two essential ingredients: cellulose that gives it structure and lignin that acts as a glue. Sheets of cellulose are blended and then embedded into a gel that when dry is placed into a press to form a sheet of wood-like material. This can then be cut, sanded, and coated with resins to make tree-like fake wood products.

Travis first made his first wood alternative in his dorm room growing cellulose himself according to Fast Company. Then, he started working with KombuchAid, a food company that is supplying the bacteria cellulose.

Today, Travis is using Pyrus to make small items like guitar picks and jewelry. He chose to replicate exotic woods that are found in rainforests to help preserve the trees in the region from being cut down. He plans to someday 3-D print larger items out of his creation and the $2,600 prize money from the award will be used to help bring this to fruition.

Other wood substitutes are also in the works. Researchers at MIT are working on growing wood in laboratories instead of in forests. The scientists found a way to grow plant tissue (wood and fiber) from cells that were extracted from zinnia leaves but this is years away from being viable.

It is hoped that in the future, the two largest uses of trees – wood products and paper –  will be manufactured from sustainable alternatives. When forests are no longer needed to supply manufacturing, they will be left standing in nature.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.