Over the past year or so, one of the most sought-after materials was one we probably all don’t think much about: lumber. The housing market was booming, people were looking to remodel and expand homes, and the price of lumber skyrocketed due to the demand.

However, the issue isn’t as simple as supply and demand. Scientists believe that deforestation due to beetle infestations have been causing wood shortages in the United States. The beetles are living longer and reproducing more quickly due to higher average temperatures. 

With wood supply becoming scarce, innovative solutions were needed. Recently, a promising wood alternative has been created from a very unlikely source: kombucha. That’s right, the bubbly beverage you can find at your local grocery store could be the key to reimagining the way we #MakeBetter.

Featured Solutionist: Gabe Tavas

The idea for a kombucha-based alternative wood stemmed from 21 year-old Gabe Tavas, the winner of the 2021 James Dyson Award. Run by the James Dyson Foundation, the award is dedicated to celebrating budding inventors’ new solutions.

Tavas is a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was determined to make “wood” without the need for trees. He came up with a material produced with bacterial cellulose waste from brewing kombucha. Over the past year, dozens of his wood samples were used in woodworking shops around the country before he won Dyson’s award.

His research led him to learn about biodesign, a science that uses living organisms to grow material for products. Tavas first made the kombucha-waste alternative in his dorm, growing the precious cellulose himself. He finished his research in New York City, leading him to the development of Pyrus. 

How is Pyrus Made?

Tavas began working on Pyrus after seeing others in the industry using kombucha cellulose, the slimy sheet of bacteria that forms on top of kombucha when it’s brewed. Often thrown away, the material was being repurposed into products such as jackets and blankets.

Tavas and his team blended the cellulose and poured it into a mold, pressing it with binders using algae-based gel. The result was a sheet of synthetic material that can be used just like lumber is. The “wood” can be sanded, nailed, and is biodegradable. 

Tavas’ Inspiration

Tavas says his determination for creating change came from what he refers to as “immigrant influence.” His mother, an immigration attorney, moved from Cuba to the United States as a child, his father moved from the Philippines at 17. 

“Right before college, I became more attuned to our planet’s issues after living in an indigenous community in Ecuador… After seeing the effects deforestation had on their community, I shifted my focus away from industrial design and looked for solutions to those problems.”

Artificial wood made out of Kombucha brewing waste wins the 2021 USA James Dyson Award | Yanko Design

Tavas plans to use his award winnings towards expanding his facilities and researching 3D printing solutions. If all goes to plan, Tavas wants this to become a solution for anyone, and to be made into planet-friendly products that help consumers and businesses alike.