Composite products made with the root structure of mushrooms could provide a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials, a team of researchers has argued.
In particular such materials might help address socio-economic and environmental challenges in Africa, the team from the University of Bristol claim.
In a new paper published in the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems, lead author Stefania Akromah, a PhD student in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Composites Science, Engineering, & Manufacturing, suggests that while holding a lot of potential benefits, mycelium composite technology has yet to become established in the African continent.
Akromah said: “I am very intrigued by how such a simple technology holds so much potential for the African continent, and I am happy that my contribution could make a difference in the lives of my people.”
Mycelium – the roots of mushrooms – composites are a class of versatile materials that have gained popularity in Europe and the US in the past decade. They are produced by harnessing the ability of fungi to grow by feeding on organic biomass – eliminating the need for high-end manufacturing processes.
The organic biomass used for the basis of mycelium composites are often obtained from agricultural, agro-industrial, and forestry waste streams. There is a wide range of applications for mycelium composites, including packaging materials, insulation panels, floor tiles, and furniture.
Mycelium composites are also envisioned as the ‘next-generation of self-healing and self-growing’ structures in construction. This can be achieved due to the ability of fungi to respond to light, chemicals, gases, gravity, electric fields, and mechanical cues.
Akromah paper suggests mycelium composites can add value to agricultural waste, potentially offering an incentive for investment in the agricultural sector and increasing productivity.
Mycelium composite production could also serve as a greener waste management route not only for agricultural waste, but for plastics and other carbon-based waste materials too.
Dr Neha Chandarana, lecturer in sustainable composite materials, said: “We’re seeing quite a lot of activity in mycelium composites at the moment, and I’m looking forward to the next steps of our project that will address the development of structural mycelium-based materials as well as considering the social and environmental impacts.”
Professor Steve Eichhorn, professor of materials science and engineering, added: “I learned so much in writing this review with Stefania and Neha, both about the possibilities for cheap, lightweight and sustainable composites from mycelium, but also how these might be deployed in African countries.”
Image credit: Peter Schmidt/Pixabay
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