In sight, but out of mind, artificial colorants, dyes and pigments and the industries producing and using them contribute massive amounts of chemical pollutants into ecosystems every year. Clean Challenge semi-finalists and biology students, Emily Ediger and Megan Foley, along with business student and president of the Entrepreneurship Club at PSU, Nick Simms and Dr. Daniel Ballhorn, Assistant Professor of Biology, want to meet the growing demand environmentally friendly natural dyes in an innovative way.
Currently, the majority of natural dyes are derived from plants. Extracting dyes from plants, however, is resource and energy intensive and these factors keep the plant-based dye industry from scaling to meet the rising demand for natural dyes and pigments. This team wants to take advantage of this unmet need by using microorganisms, rather than plants, as a source for colorants. Fungal endophytes are microorganisms that release pigmented compounds that potentially could meet the need of producers of natural dyes in a sustainable way.
Pooling their knowledge of business and biology these Clean Challenge semi-finalists plan to use their development funds to test pigments produced by fungal endophytes to see if they'll stand up to textile industry requirements—durable and non-toxic, and to develop a plan to scale-up the production of pigments while they form their business plan.
If successful, this team could help the textile and other industries clean up their act by reducing pollutants and providing a sustainable and efficient way to produce natural dyes.