According to the definition given in 1991 by the International Consensus Conference on Biomaterials in Chester, UK, biomaterials are “designed to interface with biological systems to evaluate, support, or replace any tissue, organ, or bodily function”. Research in this field has seen a steady increase in interest and investment, progressing by leaps and bounds: nowadays, biomaterials have much wider application horizons and are considered one of the most essential to build a sustainable world, based on organic matter. .
Arguably the best-known biomaterial in the world is hemp, which can be used to make textiles, bricks, and even different types of fuel. Some lesser-known but equally interesting organic materials are fungi, fungal organisms that are currently being studied for a multitude of applications, some of which sound like pure science fiction.
To name but a few in no particular order, thanks to the various applications of the mycelium – that is, the vegetative apparatus of fungi, the fibrous part that exists partly underground and partly in the stem – current and future creations include bricks, sound-absorbing elements, windows, plastics, fabrics and faux leathers, sensors and food solutions capable of replacing meat.
AirMycelium – Photo courtesy of Ecovative
According to Mohammad Mahdi Dehshibi, a researcher at SUNAI (Scene Understanding and Artificial Intelligence Lab), fungi are the largest, most widespread and oldest group of living organisms on the planet. They grow rapidly and bind to any substrate they come in contact with, which means that it is possible to bind the mycelium to inert material. Additionally, the mycelium is also electrically conductive and sensitive to light, heat, and certain chemicals. Dehshibi says: “We can reprogram a geometry and a theoretical structure of the graphs of the mycelium networks, then use the electrical activity of the fungi to make computer circuits. Mushrooms not only respond to stimuli and trigger signals accordingly, but also allow us to manipulate them to perform computational tasks, in other words, to process information.”
Hy-Fi – Photo by Amy Barkow. Courtesy of The Living. / Hy-Fi – Photo by Kris Graves. Courtesy of The Living
The technology’s premises are so promising that the European Union has funded a project, FUNGAR, which aims to“developing a structural substrate using living fungal mycelium infused with nanoparticles and polymers”. You read that right: they are living structures. The project description goes on to explain: “This structural substrate will be able to create buildings, which will self-grow, construct and repair themselves while adapting to the environment.”
The world’s largest and best-known “fungal” building to date was designed and built in 2014 by design firm The Living. It has been nicknamed Hy-Fi and is an organically shaped three-pronged tower made of bricks created from mycelium and agricultural waste. Hy-Fi was exhibited on the terrace of MoMA in New York after winning the Young Architect Program. The bricks, known as Ecovative, “grow” in five days without consuming energy or emitting carbon dioxide. The future is only one mushroom away.
Photo credits: TheLiving, Ecovative, Wikimedia Commons, Kris Graves, Amy Barkow
Unsplash: Timothy Dykes, Damir Omerovic, Timothy Dykes
Growth of Hy-Fi Bricks – Photo courtesy of The Living.
Hy-Fi Bricks Test – Courtesy of The Living.