A group of scientists at Newcastle University has created Mycocrete, a paste made from mushrooms, which enables the production of lightweight and more environmentally friendly building materials.
Scientists are working to try to reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry. For this, they have developed a way to grow building materials using knitted molds and the root network of fungi. Although they have experimented with similar composites in the past, the shape and growth constraints of the organic material had made it difficult to develop different applications that would exploit its full potential.
Now, using knitted molds as a flexible structure or “formwork,” the scientists have created a composite called “mycocrete” that is stronger and more versatile in terms of shape, enabling the production of relatively environmentally friendly building materials.
“Our ambition is to transform the look, feel and comfort of architectural spaces using mycelium in combination with biobased materials such as wool, sawdust and cellulose,” said Dr. Jane Scott of Newcastle University, corresponding author of the paper published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology.
The research was conducted by a team of designers, engineers and scientists from the Living Textiles Research Group, part of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at Newcastle University, funded by Research England. To create composites using mycelium, part of the root network of fungi, the scientists mix mycelium spores with granules they can feed on and material they can grow on.
This mixture is compressed into a mold and placed in a dark, moist and warm environment so that the mycelium can grow and bind firmly to the substrate. Once it reaches the correct density, but before it begins to produce the fruiting bodies we call mushrooms, it is dried. This process could provide a cheap and sustainable substitute for foam, wood and plastic. But the mycelium needs oxygen to grow, which limits the size and shape of conventional rigid molds and restricts current applications. Knitted fabrics offer a possible solution: oxygen-permeable molds that could change from flexible to rigid as the mycelium grows.
However, the fabrics can be too elastic, and it is difficult to compress the molds evenly. Scott and his colleagues sought to design a mixture of mycelium and a production system that could exploit the potential of knitted molds. “Knitting is an incredibly versatile 3D manufacturing system,” Scott said. “It is lightweight, flexible and moldable. The biggest advantage of knitting technology over other textile processes is the ability to knit 3D structures and shapes without seams and without waste.”