Scientists use fungus to create eco-friendly construction materials

This process could provide a cheap, sustainable replacement for foam, timber, and plastic.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The BioKnit structure.jpg
The BioKnit structure.


The future of the construction industry is green,, with scientists developing a way to grow building materials using knitted molds and the root network of fungi. Previous trials with similar composites have been made but the shape and growth constraints of the organic material made it difficult to develop diverse applications. 

Now, a team of designers, engineers, and scientists in the Living Textiles Research Group, part of the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment at Newcastle University, which is funded by Research England, have used the knitted molds as a flexible framework or ‘formwork’, creating a composite called ‘mycocrete’ which is stronger and more versatile in terms of shape and form.

This is according to a press release published on Friday.

“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,” said Dr Jane Scott of Newcastle University, corresponding author of the paper in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. 

How it's made

To make composites using mycelium, the researchers used a process that could provide a cheap, sustainable replacement for foam, timber, and plastic. However, the system was constrained by the fact that mycelium needs oxygen to grow.

One possible solution to this problem was knitted textiles: oxygen-permeable molds that could change from flexible to stiff with the growth of the mycelium

“Knitting is an incredibly versatile 3D manufacturing system,” said Scott. “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.”

The team produced samples of mycocrete, a paste designed to be delivered into the knitted formwork with an injection gun to improve packing consistency. This paste needed to be liquid enough for the delivery system but not so liquid that it failed to hold its shape.

The samples were then subjected to strength tests in tension, compression, and flexion, proving to be stronger than conventional mycelium composite samples and outperforming mycelium composites grown without knitted formwork.

A proof-of-concept prototype structure called BioKnit was also built. It consisted of a complex freestanding dome constructed in a single piece without joins that could prove to be weak points, thanks to the flexible knitted form.

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

“In this paper we have specified particular yarns, substrates, and mycelium necessary to achieve a specific goal. However, there is extensive opportunity to adapt this formulation for different applications. Biofabricated architecture may require new machine technology to move textiles into the construction sector.”