Mycelium composites: A sustainable building material for Africa

Researchers at the University of Bristol has proposed mycelium composites as a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials, with the potential to tackle socio-economic and environmental challenges in Africa.

In a recent publication in the journal Advanced Sustainable Systems, Lead Author Stefania Akromah, a Ph.D. student in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Composites Science, Engineering, and Manufacturing, highlights the untapped potential of mycelium composite technology in the African context.

Mycelium composites are materials derived from mycelium, the root system of mushrooms. These versatile materials, which have gained popularity in Europe and the US over the past decade, are grown by harnessing fungi’s ability to feed on organic biomass, eliminating the need for complex manufacturing processes. Interestingly, mycelium composites can be cultivated virtually anywhere, even at home, without requiring extensive expertise or advanced equipment.

These composites are typically made from organic biomass sourced from agricultural, agro-industrial, and forestry waste streams. They have a wide range of applications, including packaging materials, insulation panels, floor tiles, and furniture.

Moreover, mycelium composites hold the promise of being the “next generation of self-healing and self-growing” construction materials, thanks to fungi’s responsiveness to various stimuli like light, chemicals, gases, gravity, electric fields, and mechanical cues.

Lead author Stefania Akromah expressed her enthusiasm for the technology’s potential in Africa, saying, “I am very intrigued by how such a simple technology holds so much promise for the African continent, and I am delighted that my research could have a positive impact on my community.”

Stefania’s paper suggests that mycelium composites can provide added value to agricultural waste, potentially incentivizing investment in the agricultural sector and boosting productivity. Additionally, mycelium composite production could offer a more eco-friendly waste management solution, not only for agricultural waste but also for plastics and other carbon-based materials.

The next phase for the research team involves refining the properties and production processes of mycelium composites to seamlessly integrate this technology into established practices across various developing countries.

Dr. Neha Chandarana, Lecturer in Sustainable Composite Materials, shared her excitement about the project, stating, “Working alongside Stefania and Professor Steve Eichorn on this project has been truly rewarding. The growing interest in mycelium composites is promising, and we’re eager to explore how these materials can be developed for structural applications while considering their social and environmental impacts.”

Professor Steve Eichhorn, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, added, “Collaborating on this review with Stefania and Neha has been enlightening. We’ve not only discovered the potential for affordable, lightweight, and sustainable composites from mycelium but also how they can be applied in African countries.”

Source: University of Bristol

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