It was just this week that we heard how a fungus-based material could be used as fireproof insulation. Well, scientists have now created a similar material, known as mycocrete, that could one day be utilized to grow parts of buildings.
When people see mushrooms sprouting out of the ground, they may not realize that those mushrooms are connected to one another by an underground network of root-like structures. Those “roots” are known as hyphae, and a network of them is known as mycelium.
When grown and harvested under the right conditions, mycelium takes on the form of a tough material that can be used as vegan leather, soundproofing material or packing foam, among other things. That brings us to the mycocrete, which is being developed at Britain’s Newcastle University.
It’s a paste made up of mycelium spores and grains which those spores can feed on, along with ingredients such as paper powder, paper fiber clumps, water, glycerin and xanthan gum, that help bulk it up.
The paste is injected into an oxygen-permeable knitted textile mold, which is then placed in a warm, dark, humid environment. As the spores proceed to grow into actual mycelium, the densely packed hyphae transform the paste into a stiff three-dimensional matrix, in the shape of the mold. In a final step, the mycocrete structure is removed from the growing environment and dried out, keeping it from reaching the stage where it starts sprouting mushrooms.
As a proof-of-concept exercise, the researchers produced a freestanding dome called BioKnit, which is made up of a single piece of mycocrete without any joints. When tested, the material was found to be considerably stronger than other experimental mycelium-based building materials, plus it shrank less as it dried.
“The mechanical performance of the mycocrete used in combination with permanent knitted formwork is a significant result, and a step towards the use of mycelium and textile biohybrids within construction,” said the lead scientist, Dr. Jane Scott.
A paper on the study was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.