The future of construction is rotten. The process which has long been known to decompose and recycle organic matter may soon provide the building blocks to construct our future. The technology is owed to nonother than the mushroom- or more accurately, fungus.
Fungi have dominated the world’s undergrowth for millions of years. Their unique ability to decompose organic matter enables them to thrive from the life of other organisms. Over decades of research and development, scientists are narrowing in on technologies which will allow engineers to use fungus as the main building material in future constructions.
The visible portion of a fungus, or a mushroom, only represents a minute fraction of the fungus. Beneath the surface, mushrooms can quickly grow out thread-like roots called mycelium. In recent years, scientists have developed ways to make use of the web-like formations to create many materials, including bricks.
Building a 40-Foot tower made of living mushroom bricks
An architectural team known as The Living designed the world’s first mushroom brick tower back in 2014. The team constructed the bricks entirely from fibrous fungi which grew from agricultural waste. The idea came from Ecovative, a research company who develops alternate uses for mushroom mycelium.
The Living collaborated with structural engineers to design a building made entirely from mushrooms. The team spent weeks investigating which techniques worked best to support the most weight.
After rigorous testing, the team decided to take on the task of building a structurally sound 40-foot tower. The tower consisted of 10,000 bricks and reached 40-feet into the air.
[Edited Image Source: The Creators Project/Youtube]
The bricks used to construct the building were grown in three separate molds. To make the bricks, researchers filled molds with organic matter infused with spores. It only takes five days for the mushrooms to transform the organic matter into a viable brick, making the process cheap and efficient. Although it is not the same as conventional building materials, the early stages of mycelium material engineering are proving hopeful.
How does it compare?
As with most emerging technologies, to become a viable alternative to conventional building materials, the mushroom brick will still require extensive research and development. In essence, the brick is not as strong and does not have a long useful lifespan in comparison to most building materials.
One of the most commonly used construction materials is concrete. Concrete on its own maintains a compressive strength of concrete 4000 psi (28 MPa), up to 10,000 psi (70 MPa) depending on the requirements. Comparatively, the mushroom bricks can only withstand 30 Psi, or 0.2 MPa.
Though it cannot support nearly as much weight, it is also much lighter than concrete. The mushroom brick weighs an astonishing 43 kg/m³. On the other hand, concrete weighs about 2,400 kg/m³. Despite the brick’s lack of compressive strength, its low density makes it useful in areas which do not need as much support. The bricks can be used as a both an insulator and as support for interior walls within a building.
The bricks are also surprisingly durable. Before being used to construct the 40-foot tower, engineers put the bricks under accelerated aging- a process which stimulates three years of weathering (wind, rain, and humidity) over a three-week period.
“After three years of accelerated aging the material performed exactly the same as it did originally,” says David Benjamin, on of the coordinators at The Living.
The applications mushrooms reach far beyond that of just building applications.
Large companies are looking to mycelium as an alternative to conventional packaging materials. The mushroom packaging is naturally fire resistant and it can be easily molded to any shape. With a curing time of only five days, the mushroom manufacturing process is proving to be a viable option for other cooperations to consider.
Of course, the largest driving force behind mushroom materials is its environmental friendliness. It is carbon neutral and if exposed to living organisms, it can be decomposed.
The technology behind mushroom engineering is still in its infancy. As more carbon taxes are inevitably imposed with the increasing threat of global warming, humanity will be required to take alternative measures to save money now, and save the planet later.