Mushrooms are good to eat, but their roots may be far more important to mankind. They can be used to make mushroom based building materials that are stronger than concrete, have more insulating power than fiberglass, and are completely compostable. Talk about your magic mushrooms!
Mushroom roots are made of mycelium, a fungus that converts hydrocarbons into carbohydrate chains. Those chains wrap themselves around anything that gets in the way as tightly as a web from Spiderman’s wrist squirters. Mycelium grows underground in the absence of light, which means it requires no external energy source to work its magic. Inject it into a mixture of rice husks, corn stalks or any other crop waste and it quickly digests any available lignin and encapsulates everything left over.
Building on the pioneering work of Paul Stamets, an American mycologist (a fungi botanist), Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, two mechanical engineers who graduated from students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York, founded a company called Ecovative to produce building products from mycelium. The company name is a composite of “ecological” and “inniovative.” You can learn more about their company and their ideas by watching the video below.
One of their products is an environmentally friendly insulation material that outperforms traditional fiberglass. It can even be injected between an interior and an exterior wall, where it will grow silently in the dark and become so strong the wall will need no internal metal or wooded studs to support it.
Another Ecovative product is called simply Mushroom Material, a range of structural items that look like particle board but which actually contain no wood. They are cheaper, lighter and stronger than particle board and are 100% compostable when they reach the end of their useful life. They can even be engineered to repel or destroy invasive pests like carpenter ants, fire ants and termites.
But best of all, the Ecovative panels contain no formaldehyde or other petro-chemical based resins that make up as much as 15% of ordinary particle board. Formaldehyde is made from natural gas – which comes to us these days from fracking — and is a known carcinogen. You may recall the problems formaldehyde caused in the infamous “FEMA Trailers” used to provide temporary shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Mycelium can also be used to replace expanded foam products like drink cups and food containers at fast food restaurants. According to the EPA, those foam items are responsible for up to 20% of all the waste currently buried in our landfills. The mycelium based products break down easily and just make more soil, not toxic waste.
No wonder the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, founded by renowned architect William McDonough, has awarded Ecovative’s Mushroom Material their prestigious Certified Gold rating.
A 100% biodegradable construction material that is stronger than concrete and energy efficient? It shouldn’t be long before the world beats a path to Ecovative’s door.
Source: Architecture & Design