Humans may one day be living in homes fit for gnomes.
Researchers at the UK’s Newcastle University are using fungal networks (called mycelium) to build structures. The goal is to create lighter-weight buildings, reducing our reliance on concrete and lessening negative environmental impact.
Mycelium, small strings that are part of a fungus, intertwine underground with tree roots. It’s part of a network of plants that pass water and nutrients to each other, even allowing trees to “communicate,” according to the National Forest Foundation.
Researchers are leveraging the growth properties of the organism to create mycocrete, an ingenious paste that, when dried, is “stronger and more versatile” than other fungi biomaterials.
“Our ambition is to transform the look, feel and wellbeing of architectural spaces using mycelium in combination with biobased materials such as wool, sawdust, and cellulose,” Newcastle’s Dr. Jane Scott said in a university report.
The process is quite the biology experiment. Scientists take mycelium spores and mix them with materials the spores can devour and grow on, including grains.
This mixture is put into a mold and placed in a room that might resemble your basement right now — warm, dark, and humid. The mycelium grows to form and is dried, creating a building material that could be a cleaner fill-in for foam, timber, or plastic, per Newcastle research.
In this innovation, the experts have improved the process by using flexible, tube-shaped knitted molds, which are hung from a frame. This allows for more oxygen to enter, helping to create what the experts call mycocrete, CleanTechnica reported.
The team proved the concept through a unique build called BioKnit, which was tested for strength, outperforming past samples. It’s a “complex freestanding dome constructed in a single piece without [joints] that could prove to be weak points, thanks to the flexible knitted form,” according to Newcastle experts.
It looks sort of like a birdcage. A university photo shows two people sitting inside it.
If this fungus can prove versatile enough to replace concrete in even a portion of our buildings, the results could be impactful. Princeton University reported that concrete is the “most consumed” product on Earth, not counting water. The concrete industry contributes 4.4 billion tons of air pollution a year, per Princeton.
The experts must create the right mycelium mix for buildings, before it goes mainstream.
It’s “a significant result, and a step toward the use of mycelium and textile biohybrids within construction,” Scott said in the university report.
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