What do cat food, a can of soda, architecture, and engineering have in common? If you add mushrooms to the mix, you’ve got the perfect recipe for strong, sustainable building material.
Researchers are building structures using mycelium, the underground foundation of mushrooms found naturally in the wild. Although this may sound like it’s straight from a sci-fi movie, scientists, in reality, are growing the most extraordinary materials when combining mushrooms with things typically found in the landfill.
“Fungal buildings will self-grow, build, and repair themselves subject to substrate supplied, use natural adaptation to the environment, sense all what [a] human can sense,” wrote Cornell University scientists Andrew Adamatzky, Phil Ayres, Gianluca Belotti and Han Wosten in a research publication about fungal architecture.
Here’s how the process works:
- A mushroom sample is placed in agar (a seaweed-based gelatinous substance) and spores start to grow.
- A separate mixture of substrate is prepared. This can consist of waste such as glass, candy, cat food, and an energy drink and agricultural waste like straw or wood chips.
- The mushroom sample is mixed in with the substrate.
- The mixture is placed in or on a form and sealed up for about a week while the mycelium increases in volume.
- The mass is removed from the form and baked dry.
Mycelium composite products come with many benefits and can be used for insulation, packing material, furniture, leather-like fabric, and bricks. The material is currently being developed to serve as sustainable technology. Mycelium insulation can be fire and pest resistant, useful for acoustics, and efficient for thermal control in architectural structures.
You’ve probably already seen mycelium molds used to store computer parts and household products. Researchers are now working on creating mycelium bricks that can be used to build structures while reducing the world’s carbon footprint at the same time. While the process is underway, it’s far from complete. Mycelium composite can break down if stored outside, and the compression strength for mycelium bricks is only 30 PSI (pounds per square inch) compared to concrete that can withstand 4,000 PSI. But still, one’s dream can eventually become reality, right?
If you are thinking about the possibility of using mycelium for a construction project, it’s a good idea to make sure you are working with a licensed professional. Visit the Department of Consumer Affairs’ California Architects Board, the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists, or the Contractors State License Board for more information on these licensed professionals; to check a professional’s license, visit https://search.dca.ca.gov.