Nature’s got a way, brothers (and sisters)… not only could we start using fungus as a building material, but it looks like we could use the stuff to leech Bisphenol A – the nasty compound in polycarbonate plastics – from waste materials, keeping it out of the ecosystem at large.
Of course, there’s no telling what might happen to mycelia fed a continuous diet of toxic chemicals. Perhaps it’ll get hungry, and start eating plastics we’re not yet ready to throw away…
I usually try very hard to think up my own headlines when passing on items like this, but sometimes you just have to concede that the one you found can’t be improved upon. So, enter the newest candidate for the ultimate in environmentally-friendly building materials – fungal mycelium [via MetaFilter; image by James Jordan].
Mycelium doesn’t taste very good, but once it’s dried, it has some remarkable properties. It’s nontoxic, fireproof and mold- and water-resistant, and it traps more heat than fiberglass insulation. It’s also stronger, pound for pound, than concrete. In December, Ross completed what is believed to be the first structure made entirely of mushroom. (Sorry, the homes in the fictional Smurf village don’t count.) The 500 bricks he grew at Far West Fungi were so sturdy that he destroyed many a metal file and saw blade in shaping the ‘shrooms into an archway 6 ft. (1.8 m) high and 6 ft. wide.
A promising start-up named Ecovative is building a 10,000-sq.-ft. (about 930 sq m) myco-factory in Green Island, N.Y. “We see this as a whole new material, a woodlike equivalent to plastic,” says CEO Eben Bayer. The three-year-old company has been awarded grants from the EPA and the National Science Foundation, as well as the Department of Agriculture–because its mushrooms feast on empty seed husks from rice or cotton. “You can’t even feed it to animals,” says Bayer of this kind of agricultural waste. “It’s basically trash.”
Ecovative’s next product, Greensulate, will begin targeting the home-insulation market sometime next year. And according to Bayer’s engineering tests, densely packed mycelium is strong enough to be used in place of wooden beams.
There are so many possible punchlines that I think I’ll leave you to pick your own…
The natural world still has plenty of surprises waiting for us, it seems. Scientists have discovered a Patagonian rainforest fungus that produces something pretty close to diesel by consuming cellulose:
The fungus, called Gliocladium roseum and discovered growing inside the ulmo tree (Eucryphia cordifolia) in northern Patagonia, produces a range of hydrocarbon molecules that are virtually identical to the fuel-grade compounds in existing fossil fuels.
Of course, burning the stuff is going to do as much environmental harm as the oil-based equivalent, but if they can scale up the process it might be an attractive renewable alternative to making fuels from dwindling oil supplies or otherwise useful food crops.