The future is fungi: building with mycelium

At first glance, these hair-like white threads appear as though a spider has spun them together. This structure is known as mycelium – the fleshy, vegetative part of a fungus which can be transformed into a robust supermaterial

Fungi are excellent waste-recyclers, which break down organic material; their ecology is crucial to the overall biology of a woodland ecosystem. The spores within a fungus germinate producing single-cell wide structures called hyphae. When these branched, tubular filaments multiply they form a biological network which permeates into the soil, known as mycelium.

Image credit: Rob Hille 

The fungi secrete enzymes into decaying wood and the mycelia penetrate into the material by physical pressure, breaking down the cellulose-based polymers into monomers. The fungi absorbs the monomers, gaining essential nutrients and sugars which allows the mycelium to intertwine and grow.

When dried, mycelium can be used as a robust substance to construct lampshades and bricks, for example. The material can withstand extreme temperatures, is stronger than concrete and is water,  fire and mould-resistant.

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To construct mycelium into a material a sterilised substrate (such as sawdust) is added to the fungus. The fungus digests and consumes the nutrients within the sawdust, growing into the predesigned molds that the designer has placed it within.

When mycelium bricks are placed together, in a few hours, the material fuses together. The growth can be stopped when the substance is dried, creating a rigid material which can be sanded and painted. The mycelium bricks are bulletproof and absorb carbon dioxide, making them a sustainable material for the construction of our future buildings.

Image credit: Rob Hille

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