For all hands
Mycelium is the material of the future
Diana Engelhardt, "Scientific Russia"
Scientists estimate that as of 2015, 8,300 million metric tons of primary plastics were produced. According to the same study, 91% of the plastic produced will never be recycled. If plastic production continues at the same volume, then by 2050 there will be 12,000 million metric tons of plastic waste in the environment and in landfills. Are there the same universal, but eco-friendly alternatives to cheap and polluting polymer materials?
Unlike plastic, which decomposes from 20 to 500 years, there is an organic compostable material of inexpensive production – mycelium. And although its use has not yet become as widespread in all industries, great hopes are already pinned on mycelium: after all, it is a safe, biodegradable and durable material that has a wide range of applications.
Mycelium, or mycelium, is a root–like structural body of a fungus that consists of hyphae, that is, branching threads. In simple words, this is the filamentous part of the mushroom located underground. The mycelium is also a vegetative organ: water with nutrients dissolved in it is absorbed through its surface.
Various manufacturing industries have already become interested in this completely organic and renewable material. Mycelium can become an alternative not only to plastic, but also to natural leather, building materials and even meat. For this purpose, not forest mushrooms are used, but a mycelium specially grown on water or in a substrate made of sawdust or other organic garbage.
Mycelium can be grown by giving it various shapes. For example, the shape of a brick. Such inexpensive "green" building materials will help reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In addition, mycelium can replace concrete – the basis of modern buildings. One of the components of concrete is cement, the production of which emits 7% of the total CO2 emissions. Mycelium, on the contrary, absorbs carbon dioxide, turning it into oxygen.
So, on the basis of technologies developed by Ecovative, architect David Benjamin built a tower of bio-bricks, one of the main components of which was mycelium.
Mycelium can be used to create wardrobe items: sneakers, clothes, accessories. Adidas and Stella McCartney use Mylo, a soft and elastic mycelium fabric that looks and feels very similar to natural leather.
And to create synthetic materials, including artificial leather, petroleum products are required, the extraction of which negatively affects the environment. In addition, oil is a non–renewable resource, unlike mycelium. And the cultivation of eco-leather is not only ethical in relation to animals, but also environmentally friendly: you do not need to raise livestock, spending a lot of resources on it, nor deprive living beings of life.
To create "mushroom clothes", not forest mushrooms are used, but mycelium grown in the laboratory. Mylo tissue is grown from mycelium cells on equipment that runs on 100% renewable energy.
Mycelium has the properties of genuine leather – it stretches slightly, practically does not burn and is waterproof. Animal rights activist Stella McCartney, the creator of the eponymous brand that has never used leather, says about Mylo technology: "I believe that the Stella community should never compromise with luxury and design for the sake of sustainable development, and Mylo makes this a reality.
Modern designers are actively experimenting with mycelium. For example, designer Eric Clarenbeck printed a chair on a 3D printer. A live mushroom grows inside the structure, giving it strength. In addition to mycelium, water and crushed straw were used for printing.
"Our main goal was to combine machine and nature to create a new material that could be used to make any product," Klarenbeck told Dezeen.
The potential of mycelium does not end with furniture, clothing and building materials. Even eco–friendly food can be grown from the mycelium - "meat" on a plant basis!
Vegetarianism is becoming more common for two main reasons: ethical and environmental. Unlike other meat alternatives, which are mainly supplied in the form of minced meat, mycelium can be grown in 3D form or formed after processing.
So, the Colorado brand is already growing alternative meat from mycelium – Meati. Mycelium plants for Meati are grown in a special room, which keeps the product ultra-pure and protected from external pollutants such as pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones.
Only water, sugar and nutrients are used to grow mycelium. Sugar stimulates the growth of mycelium, but does not get into the final product. Filamentous mycelium is visually similar to muscle tissue, which allows manufacturers to easily form shapes of any products from it: from chicken to steak.
Materials using mycelium are also being developed in Russia – on the basis of the Chemical Faculty of Moscow State University. Whether mycelium can completely replace plastic is unknown, but today the mushroom material is a serious competitor to non–ecological material.
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