Most homeowners would agree that finding fungi in the house is far from ‘fun’. However, there are some uses of fungi that homeowners might find useful.
In 2014, the BBC discovered that the largest organism on earth, at approximately 2.4 miles across, was a parasitic and (apparently) tasty honey fungus in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. It was estimated to be between 1,900 and 8,650 years old.
Some fungi can be responsible for killing trees, but it does have some redeeming features.
Products made from the root structure of fungi, mycelium, are environmentally friendly and remain compostable once their useful lives are over.
The chemicals used in embalming fluids and coffins can pollute the area surrounding a burial and the full decomposition of a body can take up to 20 years. The World Health Organisation recognises the problem and has called on the decomposition process to be speeded up.
Dutch biotech company, Loop, is making coffins from mycelium. Researcher Bob Hendrikx began making coffins when he discovered the role of mycelium in recycling dead material. Groundwater reactivates the mycelium, which becomes ‘one with nature again’ in less than two months. He says the process neutralizes toxins from the body and the decomposition period is reduced to just three years.
The coffin is lined with a bed of moss which Loop (rather worryingly) says ‘feels good’ as well as contributing to the composting process.
He says ‘Loop Cocoon’ coffins are just the beginning and hopes to see mycelium and other natural products used in other ways, such as in textiles and houses, and he suggests street lights may one day be illuminated by algae.
Agricultural waste by-products (such as wood chips, corn stalks or husks) are treated with mycelium which feed on the waste and grows into moulded shapes, which takes around four days. Once sterilised in a kiln, the moulded shapes can be used for packaging in the same way we used polystyrene but the product can be composted in as little as five weeks.
US company, Evocative, produces MycoComposite, a mushroom-based packaging material that can be grown in a week and be re-used if kept dry. The company has several partners, including Ikea which hopes to replace its current polystyrene packaging once sufficient quantities of the product can be made to make it commercially viable. However, other partners still use the product including Dell computing.
Trying to convince builders to add fungus to a building runs contrary to what the construction industry has been trying to achieve for forty years, says Ehab Sayed of Biohm: “it’s quite a difficult one to get their head around!”
He’s producing mycelium insulation that he assures us won’t begin to sprout mushrooms. He says the mycelium insulation sheets are ideal for keeping the heat in and the thermal conductivity achievable surpasses that of glass fibre, mineral wool, and expanded or extruded polystyrene. The product is suitable for insulation because the ‘highways of mycelium hyphae’, or little hairs and roots that make up the mycelium, can trap air which makes them highly suitable for insulation of homes. It also provides excellent acoustic insulation.
Mycelium panels are also naturally fire and water resistant and capture carbon, making them a greener alternative to other forms of insulation.
As a new product, few architects or builders are aware of the product’s benefits so it remains to be seen how many will adopt mycelium over other methods of insulation.