The ecological evils of styrofoam ™ and styrene are well known…the ubiquitous packaging and insulation material constitutes nearly 25% of our landfill volume…it harms marine life…and, of course, since it’s not bio-compatible, the stuff will be hanging around for thousands of years…
“We need new materials!” — Even Bayer, green designer
But what if there was a way to make a composite material that was bio-compatible and didn’t depend upon an ecologically unfriendly chemical process? What if you could make a bio-composite material — from, say, biomass waste like corn husks — that meets all of the engineering needs/specs of styrene? What if you could make the stuff “organically” using mushrooms?
Well, now, it seems you can. All you need to do is harness the ‘self-assembly’ capacity of a mushroom’s mycellium (a network of thread-like hyphae , or fungal “hair”) to digest and adhere biomass, such as oat husks, and sit back (for five days) and let it do its thing.
What’s more, the product can be manufactured nearly anywhere, as Bayer and his company have tailored different formulations of biomass feedstocks that are native to different parts of the world. This allows native fungi to be used and avoids having to import any specific type.
In fact, the mycellium-based “plastic” is already being used commercially.
Check out the TED talk — Are Mushrooms the New Plastic? — by green designer Eben Bayer (creator of Mycobond, a fungal glue) and learn how this fascinating, biocomposite-making process works (article continues below):
More Facts about Fungi:
The fungi are unique life forms on planet Earth. They are classified in a separate, taxonomic kingdom from plants and animal. They perform several ecologically crucial functions, such as breaking down tougher, organic matter to form soil, and releasing nitrogen back into the atmosphere.
Yeasts and molds are microscopic forms of fungus. The main structural difference with plants is that, in fungi, the cell walls are made of chitin (N-acetyl-glucosamine; a polymer derivative of glucose*) not cellulose (same material as an insect’s or crustacean’s exoskeleton). And, although plant-like in their growth phases, genetically speaking, the fungi are more closely related to animals.
Some species of fungus, however, can badly damage crops, and fungal blights cost world-wide agriculture hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars a year in lost crops. An example of this is the ‘Ug 99′ rust fungus that is spreading around the globe and attacking wheat crops (see my earlier post about this fungus on Ecolocalizer.com).
Fungi are found in nearly every conceivable habitat on the planet, including extreme habitats such as deserts and high-saline, marine environments.
Penicillin is a bacteriocidal toxin produced by the penecillium fungi. It is one of the most common antibiotics prescribed by doctors and has saved millions of lives.
Fungi can also be deadly to some animals. Two fungi types that have made ecological news as of late are the chytrid (BD) fungi (blamed for decimating the global amphibian population), and the Geomyces fungus that causes “white-nose syndrome”, currently threatening seven species of North American brown bat with extinction. And if these bats goes extinct, that could cause serious agricultural problems in the U.S.
* The mycellium’s action on biomass creates a “chitinous polymer matrix”
Top Photo: Omphalotus nidiformis a bioluminescent mushroom, Cas Liber; cc – by – sa 2.5 generic
Middle Photo: fungi collage ; BorgQueen ; cc – by – sa 2.5 generic
Bottom Photo: Penicillium; Peter Halasz ; cc – by – sa 2.5 generic
Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles and essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is also an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). Michael currently lives in Seattle, Washington.