Building with mushrooms may be a more sustainable alternative to traditional materials. Researchers and architects are exploring the potential of using mushrooms as a building material due to the high levels of carbon dioxide emissions produced by the construction industry.
Cement, in particular, is a major contributor to these emissions, releasing almost four times as much CO2 as the aviation industry. In an effort to find a more sustainable option, a team of researchers set out to create a brick made from mushrooms. They began by foraging for a mushroom sample, then grew it in a Petri dish and tested its strength.
The team was able to create a brick from the mushroom and found that it was comparable in strength to traditional building materials. While more research is needed, the team is hopeful that mushrooms could one day be a viable alternative for the construction industry and help reduce carbon emissions.
William Padilla-Brown is a mushroom expert and researcher who has cultivated over 35 species of mushrooms. He is particularly interested in the cordyceps militaris mushroom, which grows on insects in the wild. When a team of researchers set out to explore the potential of using mushrooms as a building material, they enlisted William’s help to find a suitable mushroom sample. He led them to a black locust tree in the forests of Pennsylvania, where they found a cracked cap polypore mushroom. This species is strong and can be molded into different shapes, making it a good candidate for building with. William took a small tissue sample from the mushroom and placed it in agar in a Petri dish to encourage the growth of mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus. The team brought the dish back to New York and continued their research into the potential of using mushrooms as a building material.
Growing a brick from mycelium
Growing a brick from mycelium, the roots of a mushroom, is a time-consuming process. It requires patience and careful attention to detail. After collecting some clean mycelium fibers from a Petri dish, the next step is to transfer the fuzzy gunk into a small jar filled with grains.
After waiting a week, the mixture is transferred to a larger jar filled with sawdust pellets and soybean hulls. Another week of waiting follows, and then the mixture is crammed into a mold in the shape of a brick.
The final step is simply to wait and hope that the mycelium inside keeps growing denser and stronger. All in all, the process takes about four weeks to complete. It’s worth noting that not all of the samples may be successful – some may mold or not grow as expected. However, with persistence and a bit of luck, it is possible to grow a strong and useful brick from mycelium.
A Mycelium brick tower displayed in New York City
David Benjamin is an architect who sees a lot of potential in using mycelium as a green building material. In 2014, he built a tower out of mycelium bricks and displayed it in New York City. The tower, which was about 40 feet tall, was made from a new kind of brick that was created using agricultural waste and mycelium. In a later exhibit in Paris, Benjamin took the idea of mycelium bricks even further by creating building blocks that could grow together under the right conditions.
Mycelium bricks have several advantages over traditional building materials. They don’t require the use of fossil fuels to produce and don’t leave behind a toxic mess when they are disposed of. They can also be returned to the earth at the end of their useful life, rather than being left in a landfill for hundreds or thousands of years. Overall, mycelium bricks offer a sustainable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional building materials.
Testing the potential uses of the mushroom brick
After collecting a mushroom sample and growing it in a Petri dish, a team of researchers was able to create a brick from the mushroom using a mold and baking it in the oven. While the brick was not as strong as concrete, it was light and had a wood-like texture. In order to test the potential uses of the mushroom brick, the team conducted strength and insulation tests.
Mushroom brick strength test
In the strength test, the team stacked 38-pound cinder blocks on top of the mushroom brick to see if it could withstand the weight. The impression test involved applying pressure to the mushroom brick to see how much force it could withstand before being damaged. While the results of these tests were preliminary, they suggest that mushroom bricks could potentially be used as infill in walls or as a material that can withstand a certain amount of force or weight.
Mushroom brick Insulation test
The team conducted a test to see how well mycelium could insulate a building. They placed a chocolate bar, which melts at around body temperature, on one side of a mycelium brick and applied a blowtorch to the other side. After 20 seconds of direct heat, the chocolate was still solid and the brick was unharmed. This test demonstrates that mycelium has the potential as a building material that can withstand high temperatures. However, there is still a long way to go in developing mycelium building materials to ensure that they perform as well or better than traditional materials.
In addition to its potential use in construction, mycelium is also being explored as a replacement for plastic, styrofoam, and packaging materials. It has even been used to create clothes and leather-like shoes. The possibilities for using mycelium in various applications are numerous and exciting.