In an exciting step towards sustainable construction and biofabrication, a team of scientists has developed a new material called mycocrete. Their system uses a method to create eco-friendly building materials using woven molds and the complex root network of fungi.
This breakthrough was made by the researchers University of Newcastle, can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry. It will also introduce a completely new aesthetic to architectural spaces.
In the past, scientists have tried to exploit the natural structure-forming ability of fungi, but have faced challenges due to the shape and growth constraints of organic materials. The lack of diversity has limited the applicability of these composites in a wide variety of construction situations.
However, the research team has now overcome these limitations by using woven molds as a flexible framework. This approach led to the creation of Mycocrete, a stronger and more adaptable composite.
Mycocrete can be molded into various forms
The flexibility of the molds allows the mycocrete to take a variety of shapes. This makes it an attractive, lightweight and environmentally friendly option for building materials.
“Our ambition is to transform the look, feel and well-being of architectural spaces by using mycelium combined with bio-based materials such as wool, sawdust and cellulose,” said Dr Jane Scott of Newcastle University.
This innovative research was conducted by the Living Textiles Research Group. is part of Center for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at Newcastle University.
How is micocrete made?
In the process of creating mycocrete, scientists mixed mycelium spores – part of the fungi’s root network – with grains. The group uses grains as a food source and as a substrate for growth.
The researchers then pack the mixture into a mold and place it in a dark, moist, warm environment to encourage mycelium growth.
The mycelium binds the substrate tightly. Once the compound reaches a certain concentration, the researchers dry it. This whole process is sustainable and can replace foam, wood and plastic.
Mycelium is used during biofabrication
One obstacle to using mycelium compounds in manufacturing is that the mycelium requires oxygen to grow. This requirement has traditionally limited the size and shape of rigid molds.
To address this, the team used woven fabrics as oxygen-permeable molds. These molds can change from flexible to rigid as the mycelium grows, offering a unique solution.
“Weaving is an incredibly versatile 3D manufacturing system,” explained Scott. “It is lightweight, flexible and formable. The main advantage of knitting technology compared to other textile processes is the ability to weave 3D structures and shapes without seams and waste.
How to use micocrete to build structures
The team tested their innovation by creating samples of traditional mycelium composites and mycocrete.
These samples include additional ingredients such as paper powder, paper fiber clumps, water, glycerin, and xanthan gum. To improve packing stability, the researchers delivered the latter to the woven formwork using an injection gun.
Following this, the researchers knitted tubes from merino yarn for the test structure, sterilized them and attached them to the rigid structure. The team then filled with micocrete paste.
This method ensures that changes in fabric tension do not affect the performance of the micocrete.
Building the future with fungi
After drying, the researchers subjected these samples to various strength tests. Notably, mycocrete is stronger than conventional mycelium composites. It even outperformed mycelium composites grown without woven formwork.
Additionally, porous knitted fabric offers better oxygen availability and less shrinkage compared to most mycelium composite materials. This indicates more reliable construction results.
In addition to these successes, the team built a large, freestanding dome prototype Bionit. Thanks to the woven formwork, the dome is built in one piece without joints. This process helped them avoid potential weak points.
“The mechanical performance of mycocrete used in combination with sustainable woven formwork is a significant result and a step towards the use of mycelium and textile biohybrids within construction,” said Scott.
While the paper specifies the specific yarns, substrates, and mycelium needed for this purpose, she added, there is ample opportunity to adapt this formulation for different applications.
The future of biofabricated architecture may require new machines to bring textiles into the manufacturing sector. But with this promising research, it looks like we’re on the way to greener manufacturing practices.
More on biofabricated architecture
Biofabricated architecture, sometimes referred to as biodesign or bioarchitecture, refers to a rapidly growing field of architecture and construction that incorporates biological systems into the design process.
The aim is to create more sustainable, adaptive and symbiotic built environments. This field of study exists at the intersection of biology, architecture and engineering.
Biofabrication involves the use of biological materials as raw materials for manufacturing. It influences organisms such as bacteria, fungi, plants, or animals to produce or modify building materials.
This approach to manufacturing has significant potential for sustainability, as it often uses waste products or renewable resources. Also, the organisms involved often absorb carbon dioxide. This process helps in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
There are several key areas of focus in biofabricated architecture:
Mycelium, the root network of fungi, can be encouraged to grow around a composite of organic waste, creating a lightweight and durable material that can be used as an insulating material or even in the form of bricks or boards.
Bio-concrete or Bio-bricks
Certain types of bacteria are used to create bio-concrete or bio-bricks, a process in which bacteria bind calcium carbonate with sand or other aggregates to form a solid mass similar to concrete. This method can be used to repair cracks in existing concrete and extend the life of the structure.
Algae and photosynthetic organisms
Algae and other photosynthetic organisms can be used to create a dynamic, living cladding system that can produce oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, and produce biofuels.
Bamboo and engineered wood
Although not a new building material, recent advances in construction technologies have allowed engineered wood and bamboo to be used in more structurally significant ways, creating a renewable alternative to steel and concrete.
Genetically modified organisms
As genetic modification technologies advance, custom-designed organisms are likely to be used in manufacturing. This could mean bacteria that glow when a structural defect develops, or plants engineered to grow into specific structural forms.
Challenges in biofabricated architecture include biocontrol, longevity, and durability. In addition, some have expressed concern about the ethical considerations surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms.
The final hurdle is scaling production to a useful size for significant manufacturing. However, research and experiments in this area are active and ongoing.
Biofabricated architecture promises a more sustainable future in construction. At the heart of this exciting field is the idea of designing buildings and other structures that are in harmony with nature and have a positive impact on the environment.