Bio-Based and Sustainable Metal Alternatives

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Bio-based and sustainable metal alternatives represent a paradigm shift in material science, moving away from traditional metal reliance towards renewable and environmentally friendly options. These alternatives utilize materials derived from biological sources or leverage sustainable production methods, offering solutions with lower carbon footprints, reduced resource depletion, and often unique performance characteristics.

Impact on climate action

Bio-Based and Sustainable Metal Alternatives offer a significant boost to climate action by reducing carbon emissions in metal production. These alternatives leverage renewable resources, such as plant-based materials, to create metals with lower environmental footprints, fostering a shift towards sustainable practices in various industries, from construction to electronics.


  • Bio-based Materials: These materials are derived from renewable biological sources like plants, fungi, or bacteria. They often offer inherent sustainability benefits due to their natural origins and biodegradability.
  • Sustainable Production Processes: This involves employing manufacturing techniques that minimize environmental impact, such as using renewable energy sources, reducing water consumption, and minimizing waste generation.
  • Biomimicry: Inspired by nature’s designs, biomimicry seeks to replicate the structures and functions of biological materials to create high-performance, sustainable alternatives.

TRL : Varies depending on the specific material and application, generally 4-7.

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Engineered Wood Products: Advanced processing techniques transform wood into high-strength, durable materials suitable for structural applications, often exceeding the performance of traditional lumber.
  • Mycelium-Based Materials: Utilizing the root network of fungi, mycelium-based materials offer lightweight, versatile, and biodegradable alternatives for packaging, insulation, and even construction materials.
  • Bioplastics: Derived from renewable sources like corn starch or sugarcane, bioplastics provide alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, offering varying degrees of biodegradability and compostability.
  • Natural Fiber Composites: Combining natural fibers, such as hemp or flax, with bio-based resins creates strong and lightweight composite materials suitable for various applications, including automotive parts and furniture.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Plant-Based Metal Substitutes
  • Sustainable Manufacturing Techniques
  • Biomimetic Metal Alternatives
  • Fungal Biomaterials Development
  • Mycelium-Based Product Innovation
  • Renewable Bioplastic Solutions
  • Corn Starch-Based Plastics
  • Sugarcane-Derived Biopolymers
  • Biodegradable Packaging Materials
  • Insulation Solutions from Mycelium
  • Construction Materials from Fungi
  • Natural Fiber Reinforcements
  • Hemp Fiber Composite Materials
  • Flax-Based Composite Innovations
  • Biocomposite Applications in Automotive
  • Eco-Friendly Furniture Manufacturing

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Ecovative Design (USA):
    • Technology Focus: Ecovative Design specializes in using mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, to create sustainable materials as alternatives to traditional metals. They employ biotechnology and material science to engineer these materials for various applications.
    • Uniqueness: Their approach is unique in harnessing the natural properties of mycelium to create strong, lightweight, and biodegradable materials that can replace metals in certain applications.
    • End-User Segments: Ecovative’s products are suitable for industries such as packaging, construction, and consumer goods, where lightweight, environmentally friendly materials are in demand.
  • Bamboo Technologies (USA):
    • Technology Focus: Bamboo Technologies focuses on harnessing the properties of bamboo as a sustainable alternative to metals in construction and other industries. They may employ advanced engineering techniques to enhance bamboo’s strength and durability.
    • Uniqueness: Bamboo Technologies stands out for its utilization of bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource, as a viable alternative to metals. Their solutions offer strength, flexibility, and sustainability, making them attractive in various applications.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments may include construction, automotive, aerospace, and consumer electronics industries, where lightweight and eco-friendly materials are preferred.
  • Spinnova (Finland):
    • Technology Focus: Spinnova specializes in creating sustainable textile fibers from wood and agricultural waste. While not directly a metal alternative, their innovation offers a sustainable alternative to traditional textiles used in various industries.
    • Uniqueness: Spinnova’s technology transforms cellulose fibers into high-quality textiles without the use of harmful chemicals or solvents, making it a sustainable alternative to conventional textile manufacturing processes.
    • End-User Segments: Spinnova’s fibers can be used in industries such as fashion, apparel, home textiles, and automotive interiors, where sustainability and eco-friendliness are becoming increasingly important.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Wageningen University & Research (Netherlands):
    • Technology Enhancements: Wageningen University researchers are exploring innovative methods for producing low-carbon metals using bio-based feedstocks and sustainable extraction techniques. They are developing novel processes such as bioleaching and bio-reduction to extract metals from ores with minimal environmental impact.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Wageningen’s approach involves the integration of biotechnology and materials science to create low-carbon metal alternatives from renewable resources. They are investigating the use of microorganisms and enzymes to selectively extract and recover metals from industrial waste streams, agricultural residues, and biomass.
    • End-use Applications: The research at Wageningen has implications for various industries, including electronics, automotive, and construction sectors. By developing bio-based metal alternatives, companies can reduce their reliance on traditional mining methods and transition towards more sustainable manufacturing processes.
  • University of Cambridge (UK):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the University of Cambridge are focusing on developing advanced materials with low-carbon footprints for metal substitution applications. They are exploring novel synthesis routes such as biomimetic mineralization and bio-inspired fabrication techniques to create bio-based metal substitutes with enhanced properties.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Cambridge’s approach involves a multidisciplinary collaboration between materials scientists, biologists, and engineers to design bio-based materials with tailored functionalities. They are drawing inspiration from nature to develop materials that mimic the structure and properties of traditional metals while being environmentally friendly and sustainable.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based metal substitutes developed at Cambridge have applications in various industries, including aerospace, healthcare, and renewable energy sectors. For example, bio-based alloys and composites can be used in lightweight structural components, medical implants, and high-performance batteries, reducing both cost and environmental impact.
  • ETH Zurich (Switzerland):
    • Technology Enhancements: ETH Zurich researchers are exploring novel approaches for producing low-carbon metals using renewable energy sources and green chemistry principles. They are developing electrochemical and hydrometallurgical processes to synthesize metals from bio-based precursors and recycled materials with minimal energy consumption and waste generation.
    • Uniqueness of Research: ETH Zurich’s approach combines expertise in materials science, electrochemistry, and environmental engineering to create sustainable metal alternatives. They are investigating the use of bio-based electrolytes, catalysts, and electrodes to enhance the efficiency and selectivity of metal production processes while reducing their environmental footprint.
    • End-use Applications: The research at ETH Zurich has implications for various industries, including automotive, electronics, and renewable energy sectors. By developing low-carbon metal alternatives, companies can meet the growing demand for sustainable materials and contribute to the transition towards a circular economy.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

While still in its early stages, the commercial implementation of bio-based and sustainable metal alternatives is gaining traction. Ecovative Design’s Mushroom® Packaging is used by major companies like Dell and IKEA, and Bamboo Technologies supplies engineered bamboo products to various construction and furniture industries.