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Thinking of industries with high carbon footprints, construction probably isn’t the very first one that comes to mind, compared to things like the energy and transportation sectors. But it really does have a significant impact on the environment. According to a 2019 report from the International Energy Agency, “The buildings and construction sector accounted for 36% of final energy use and 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2018, 11% of which resulted from manufacturing building materials and products such as steel, cement, and glass.” Ouch.
Based on the fact that building material production is such a big contributor to construction’s environmental effects, maybe it’s time we find some alternative materials to start building with. How about … fungus?
For years, actually, engineers have been considering how mycelium – which is kind of like fungi’s roots – can be used in these types of materials. This material is being explored as a living, compostable and even self-healing building block for new structures. There have been challenges with this organic material, though, which has growth limitations keeping it from being widely usable. But engineers, architects and scientists all see a lot of potential in the stuff.
Now, the Living Textiles Research Group at Newcastle University has actually used a knitted mold to create the frame for a composite it’s calling ‘mycocrete,’ which is stronger, more adaptable and more functional than previous test variants. The group produced samples and did tests for compression, tension and flexion. This is one of the specific mycelium-based construction research projects we’ve seen so far.
“Mycelium has so much quality that we normally look for in materials that are mined, made out of mineral rocks or made out of fossil fuel, all the foams we know,” explains Ron Bakker, co-founder of the London-based research and design collaborative PLP Labs, which has created modular building blocks grown from mycelium that’s formed using 3D-printed wooden blocks. “Most of these have a big penalty to the environment. And mycelium does not.”