In a major step for sustainable construction, researchers from Newcastle University have developed a new material known as ‘mycocrete.’
The researchers created the material using knitted moulds and the intricate root network of fungi.
Wood Central has previously reported on the push to produce carbon-negative concrete; now, researchers hope that mycocrete can be used instead of carbon-dense concrete in construction projects.
The breakthrough, published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, could significantly accelerate decarbonisation in the construction industry.
It could also introduce an entirely new aesthetic to architectural spaces.
Scientists have previously attempted to exploit fungi’s natural structure-forming ability but have faced challenges due to the shape and growth constraints of the organic material.
The lack of versatility limited the applicability of these composites in diverse construction scenarios.
However, the research team has now addressed these limitations using knitted moulds as a flexible framework.
This approach led to the creation of mycocrete, which is a stronger, more adaptable composite.
Mycocrete can be moulded into diverse forms.
Earth News reports that the flexibility of the moulds allows the new material to take diverse forms.
This makes it an attractive, lightweight, and eco-friendly option for construction materials.
According to lead author Dr Jane Scott, “our ambition is to transform the look, feel and wellbeing of architectural spaces using mycelium in combination with biobased materials such as wool, sawdust and cellulose.”
Increasingly building materials are combined to create hybrid products, termed ‘the sandwich effect.’
Living Textiles Research Group carried out the research carried out this innovative research – as part of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at Newcastle University.
How Mycocrete is made
The team uses the grains as a food source and a substrate for growth.
Researchers then packed this mixture into a mould and placed it in a dark, humid, and warm environment to promote mycelium growth.
The mycelium binds the substrate together tightly.
Once the composite reaches a specific density, researchers dry it out.
This process is sustainable and could replace foam, timber, and plastic.
Using mycelium during biofabrication
Traditionally, this has limited the size and shape of rigid moulds.
To address this, scientists used knitted textiles as oxygen-permeable moulds.
According to Scott, the moulds were knitted together using a 3D manufacturing system.
“It is lightweight, flexible, and formable,” Scott says.
“The major advantage of knitting technology compared to other textile processes is the ability to knit 3D structures and forms with no seams and waste.”
How to use mycocrete to build structures
The scientists created samples of traditional mycelium composites and mycocrete.
Samples included paper powder, fibre clumps, water, glycerin, and xanthan gum.
Using an injection gun, researchers delivered the latter into the knitted formwork to improve packing consistency.
The researchers then knitted tubes from merino yarn for the test structure, sterilised them, and attached them to a rigid structure, filling them with mycocrete paste.
Building the Future with Fungi
Once dry, the researchers subjected samples to various strength tests.
They found that mycocrete was stronger than traditional mycelium composites – it even outperformed mycelium composites grown without the knitted formwork.
Also, the porous knitted fabric offered better oxygen availability and reduced shrinkage compared to most mycelium composite materials.
According to AzoBuild, the results suggest improved reliability in manufacturing.
In addition to these successes, the team constructed a larger, freestanding dome prototype known as BioKnit.
Thanks to the knitted formwork, the dome was made in a single piece without joints. This process helped them avoid potential weak points.
“The mechanical performance of the mycocrete used in combination with permanent knitted formwork is a significant result and a step towards using mycelium and textile biohybrids within construction,” said Scott.
Whilst the research specifies prescriptive yarns, substrates and mycelium, Scott said there are vast opportunities to adapt the results for different applications.
“The future of bio-fabricated architecture might require new machinery to bring textiles into the construction sector,” she said.
“But with this promising research, we’re well on our way to greener construction practices.”