Mycelia + Sawdust = House?

Take a guess. What is the featured picture for this article? If you’re channeling your inner Google image recognition, you might say: “Best guess for this image: rock.” But, like Google, you’d be wrong. Instead, what you see are bricks made out of fungi obtained from tissues of mycelia.

By taking fungi obtained from tissues of mycelia and storing them in a jar filled with a growth medium (usually sawdust), MycoWorks is creating all sorts of materials with exciting properties. In just three to seven days, the fungi and sawdust mixture expands and forms into clumps of material, which are then used to create products like handbags, purses, bricks, you name it. According to co-founder Phil Ross, “production of this material is similar to making ravioli from scratch, and the final product is more resilient than concrete.”

The resulting materials are buoyant, self-extinguishing and stress dissipating. Moreover, the bricks are alive up until they are put in a kiln. This means bricks that are placed next to each other will grow together, effectively enabling a structure to be made out of just brick, no mortar. And, while they’re not 3D printed, houses made in this fashion have great potential. If these cool new materials have got you excited, and you want to get cozy with the fungus among us, why not go all out with an automated mushroom cultivator?

Video after the break.

Disclaimer: While this video seems to be from a collaboration with Mazda and includes some marketing, it is well done, and describes their idea well.

59 thoughts on “Mycelia + Sawdust = House?

    1. the technique isn’t entirely new there is a company that produces furniture with a very similar method.

      the principle is quite straight forward mycelium is essentially made up of thousands of little string shaped structures called hyphae and as with most other composite materials loads of long fibres usually means loads of strength, since the mycelium also decomposes the matrix into various carbon chains i imagine there is plenty of potential for organic glues as well but i don’t know enough to say for certain that they play a part.

      1. So out of curiosity: Will mice/rats eat that stuff and thus would they end up making Swiss cheese from any house or furniture made of it? And how about insects? And how about rain/damp?

    2. I’ve had some contact with Ecovative since their inception and it looks like Mycoworks is doing a Bre Pettis “we invented the coolness of this” and trying to turn it into spendy art. The technology – bonding wood fiber with micelium into a low-density material – has worked for a decade and was originally slated for protective packaging (to get rid of foam end-cap cushions on appliances) and has expanded out from there.

      History here:

      1. Maybe’ sous vide’ works? :)

        I wonder if this material lends itself well for sawing in and putting screws in and such, or if you have to glue everything from door frames to paintings or big-screen TV’s on the wall.

        I also wonder if this might be growable on Mars, because it might be good for off-planet habitats too, who knows.

        1. Update on my Mars remark: I just coincidentally stumbled upon news that a Dutch university is looking into making bricks from fungus for building on the moon.
          No idea if they got the idea from visiting HaD but it’s always a possibility.

    1. Kiln-fired houses are a thing.
      If you’ve got some hours to waste here is a hole to throw them down.
      First conceived in modern times by an Iranian architect with the help from funding by the Iranian Shah’s wife.
      Support was later picked up (support = not killing him for trying) by the revolutionary guard. It seems that people getting killed by their houses melting apart from the rain is a thing.
      I thought about trying this on some farm property outside of town at one time. If I tried it today some Idjut would probably try to shoot me for being a furriner.

  1. Very interesting but i think its EXTREMELY overoptimistic to think you can use it for everything they say. In the end its still biodegradable and organic (meaning it will burn eventually). And its doubtful it will remain buoyant without additional treatment sounds to me more like it would soak and sink.

  2. I haven’t seen a vegetative fungus yet that can stand up to being autoclaved much less fired in a kiln to over 1000*C. It would take a very high mineral content to have enough inorganic minerals to form a brick.

    I’m sorry. I call BS on this.

    1. Maybe it’s not a kiln so much as an autoclave. The purpose just being to kill the fungus, to stop it growing into your food cupboards and eating your neighbours’ houses. I would worry about inhabiting a house where the bricks are microbial ecosystems, surely there’s some horrible lung infection waiting to move into a niche nobody noticed.

      Then again, killing the fungus doesn’t stop it from being biological, and just as edible to whichever new passing microbes. Isn’t your fungus house going to rot? Or infest you with diseases?

      Maybe this fungus stuff will be good for artificial leather. I’d want it dead, dry, and away from any soil or other teeming substances, if I were going to use it for anything.

      1. Won’t surrounding yourself with that much natural antibiotics as there is in fungus make you susceptible to antibiotic resistant infections? Looked at the ecovative web page and it doesn’t say which fungi they use.

    2. That’s the point. What really seems to be going on is that the fungus is burned away in the oven, which is probably at a very high heat, not something you could achieve with a home oven. What that leaves you is a highly porous material that withstands heat because of the all the tunnels now in it. Same reason it floats. They are basically making an aerated concrete but using fungus to create the aeration instead of foam and the sawdust is the binding agent.

    1. I.e. you can smash a can with it, it doesnt crack like a brick, it floats, if you make a gigantic momentary fireball that wont even melt icecream then guess what, pine would survive it too!

      What are the supposed benefits of this? I think they forgot to mention what the point is.

  3. Chitin bricks are cool, but there’s nothing on their website except marketing & hype. Paraphrasing, we believe we can solve all the world’s problems with fungus. Really? Really? !
    This doesn’t seem efficient. Pulp wood, sterilize it, inoculate it, climate control the growth, kiln dry them. Even if this is the wonder material they say it is, that’s a lot of energy.

        1. /sigh, I didn’t get the gag until you explained it. A few weeks ago I was at a talk about cyclooxygenase (Cox) inhibitors and it took me a while to figure out why people were giggling. My pun sense must be atrophying. :(

  4. In my part of the world anything that once lived will eventually get eating by something that still does. I doubt very much that there is anything that can out perform nano fibre reinforced aerated concrete.

  5. At the start and the end of the video is the Mazda Motor Corporation of Japan’s logo, is this company being sponsored by them as part of their green portfolio. I suppose it no weirder then Philip Morris Company (Marlboro cigarettes and Miller beer) being the largest corporate sponsor of dance in the US. Maybe Mazda eventually want to grow car bodies.

  6. boy if this doesn’t look like some kickstarter video for yet another vaporware product. build sample products in the outdoors, test them for at least a few months and report back. I call optimistic at least.

  7. Cool, just this weekend I was thinking about how to make an organic composite building material, and wondered about using fungi to bind it together. This saves me some trouble digging up info on it.

  8. As cool as this sounds, it strikes me as a very bad idea. My partner is allergic to, (as in ‘has an anaphylactic reaction to’), mushrooms in food she eats. (If I do happen to eat any mushrooms I have to brush my teeth thoroughly before I can even kiss her). I hate to think about the potential risk posed by breaking up packing material for disposal or, cutting ‘leather’ made from mushrooms, or walking past a construction site where mushroom-based building materials are being cut.

    Additionally, workers in mushroom factories are at significant risk of developing allergies as a result of exposure to airborne mushroom spores – see the following abstract:

    Using mushrooms in this way strikes me as akin to doing the same with peanut shells.

    1. This is about a common fungus that is very much part of the nature around you, it’s what grows in compost to make it compost, it’s in every bit of ground and the air around you, so if you are allergic to this you can only stay inside airtight concrete buildings.
      And talking concrete, some people are allergic to its dust, there are allergies to EVERYTHING. some people are allergic to light or other life sustaining necessities that are all around us, and you can’t avoid everything unless you go float in an dark corner of the universe in a vacuum, but I hear most people are ‘allergic’ let’s say to being in a hard vacuum :)

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