Eco-Friendly Concrete Is the Holy Grail of Construction. This Formula May Finally Crack It.

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Mycelium Mix May Revolutionize BuildingAndriy Onufriyenko - Getty Images
  • To create a bio-based building material, researchers from Newcastle University crafted a new “mycocrete” composite onto knitted molds.

  • Using mycelium combined with additional natural materials, the team can grow a tightly wound substrate stronger than previous mycelium materials.

  • The knitted design can create 3D shapes without seams or waste.

The next step in bio-based construction materials requires a bit of knitting. And fungus, of course. You always need fungus.

In a study published last year in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, a group of researchers from Newcastle University developed a new “mycocrete” composite that is stronger and more versatile in form than previous attempts at developing a mycelium building material—enough that the team calls it a lightweight, eco-friendly construction material alternative.

“Our ambition is to transform the look, feel, and well-being of architectural spaces using mycelium in combination with bio-based materials such as wool, sawdust, and cellulose,” Jane Scott of Newcastle University, says in a press release.

The mycocrete composite is made primarily of mycelium spores—part of the root network of fungi—and infused with grains that those spores can feed on and use to grow while packed into a mold inside a dark, humid, warm environment. Paper powder, paper fiber clumps, water, glycerin, and xanthan gum in the form of a paste were later added, and the resulting the material performed better than conventional mycelium composite.

The scientists allowed the mycocrete to mature to the correct density—think before it starts sprouting mushrooms—and then dried it out.

The molds that grew the new material were knitted, a unique approach to bio-based building materials. “Knitting is an incredibly versatile 3D manufacturing system,” Scott said in a news release. “It is lightweight, flexible, and formable. The major advantage of knitting technology compared to other textile processes is the ability to knit 3D structures and forms with no seams and no waste.”

Critically, the knitted molds were oxygen-permeable, allowing researchers to manipulate the production of the composite. The combination of materials, environment, and oxygen allowed for a tightly bound substrate that tested stronger and had less post-growth shrinkage than traditional mycelium.

The authors of the paper wrote that “significant advances in mycelium biofabrication using permanent knitted textile formwork and a new substrate formulation to dramatically improve the mechanical properties of mycelium-textile biocomposites suitable for large-scale components for use in construction” shows true promise as a usable composite system for lightweight construction.

Researchers believe the resulting mycocrete material could one day offer an inexpensive way to replace foam, timber, and plastic thanks to a more predictable and consistent manufacturing result than previous bio-based construction materials.

In the first proof-of-concept build, the team created a 6-foot-tall freestanding arched dome—they dubbed it BioKnit—with a single piece of flexible knit in the form of tubes.

“The mechanical performance of the mycocrete used in combination with permanent knitted formwork is a significant result,” Scott said in a press release, “and a step toward the use of mycelium and textile biohybrids within construction.”

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