Bacterial Cellulose Vase

Fall 2017 Personal Project

Microbial cellulose is a biomaterial that has become a focus of research as a new sustainable material that could have a variety of applications in the industry.

For this project I grew microbial cellulose using a recipe from the fashion designer, Suzanne Lee, who has worked with microbial cellulose as a new potential textile. The purpose was to research and experiment with this unusual material.

Jackets made from bacterial cellulose and dyed with natural dyes, by Suzanne Lee

Microbial cellulose can be produced by algae, fungi, and bacteria.  It is synthesized between the outer and inner plasma membranes of the bacterial cell. The properties of bacterial cellulose vary greatly from those of plant cellulose. bacterial cellulose is pure cellulose with no additional ligins or foreign substances. The structural features of microbial cellulose provide it with great physical properties than the cellulose of plants. For example, due to a high degree of crystallinity the mechanical strength of microbial cellulose is great than that for plant cellulose (1).

To grow the cellulose all that is needed is water, sugar, green tea, a culture of bacteria (Kombucha), and acetic acid (apple cider vinegar). Once the bacteria have been introduced to this mixture they are left alone to spin the cellulose fibers. 

Set up of the culture

The fibers collect on the surface of the liquid forming a film. When the film reaches the desired thickness it is collected and washed with cold soapy water and then left to dry (2). If the material is placed over a form while wet the cellulose will take the shape of the mold. For my sample I attempted to make a small vase by laying a thin layer of the material over the opening of a bottle.

Designer Suzanee Lee demonstrates how the cellulose can be molded

Diagram of molding set up

This biomaterial has many potential applications in the textile industry, technological industry, and the medical industry. It is considered a more sustainable alternative too many of the current mediums used because it is biodegradable, the process does not produce excess material, and the bacteria could be fed from waste (3).
Limitations of the cellulose's use include the fact that it currently does not have antibacterial, antioxidant, conducting, or magnetic properties (1). However, as technology and the field of bio-engineering progress it is becoming quite likely that people will soon be able to engineer bacteria that produce fibers with these desired qualities. This will allow new applications of the material that haven't even been dreamed of yet.

(1) Dieter, Klemm, et al. "Cellulose: Fascinating Biopolymer and Sustainable Raw Material". Angewandte Chemie, vol. 44, no. 22, 30 May 2005, pp 3358-3393.
(2) Grushkin, Daniel. "Suzanne Lee wants to grow clothing in a lab." Popular Science, 2015.
(3) "Suzanne Lee: Grown Your Own Clothes". TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, TED, 2011.