Now that’s BIO!

Materials and Products

The search for environmental sustainability in the manufacturing sector answers to specific social, ethical, and economic needs and it is market itself that ask for environmentally sustainable value chains. Technological innovation advances on several fronts, including that of biomaterials. An interesting example is that so-called “mycelium technology” that use fungal materials to create a new generation of completely natural and biological products.

Environmental sustainability: two words on everyone’s lips, from entrepreneurs to researchers, from marketing to communication experts. Initially used on the wave of a social and ethical push for a better manufacturing sector, these words assume today a strong economic value since they represent a new business model. The border between green washing and the real environmental sustainability is often blurred but sometimes there are good evidence about a real technological effort for a radical change in manufacturing sector. A good example is a relatively new technology, the so-called mycelium technology, and products that come from it.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of fungi consisting in a filamentous intertwining of organic matter characterized by rapid growth. This kind of living structure can be easily “cultivated” under controlled conditions in laboratory or industrial environment. By means of changing of growing conditions and growing substrate type it is possible to create different kind of material such as leatherette, plastic-like and composite-like products. Of course, to obtain a stable and usable product, mycelium growth must be stopped (for example by drying) and material must be refined according to its intended end use.

If it grown over a fibrous substrate like mowing or other agricultural by-products (e.g., straw), mycelium can be used to create panels with interesting mechanical properties and thermal and acoustic insulation effects. Moreover, the material gives particular aesthetic and touch feeling to the products, making them useful not only for technical applications (e.g., building) but also for decorative and functional furniture. During its growth, mycelium integrate vegetal fibers in its own filamentous structure thus creating a sort of 100% natural and biologic composite material, without potentially harmful chemicals for human health and environment. On the base of processing and post-processing parameters, it is possible to create panels with different characteristics: stiff or flexible, light or heavy, with soft or hard touch, with different thickness, with rough or velvety hand effects. With the same approach it is possible to create packaging easy to dispose since it is made by biodegradable or even compostable materials, thus with an almost zero environmental impacts end of life scenario.

Mycelium technology can also find application in fashion, both for clothing and accessories. In fact, with the right growing conditions and post-processing, it is possible to create leather-like products made by superimposed and pressed mycelium layers. These materials are useful to create clothes, bags, accessories and so on. In this case, to meet the typical fashion aesthetic needs, mycelium material needs additional processing like dyeing or finishing that can be affect its 100% bio nature. This is a compromise that does not reduce the high innovation level of this production technology. Its viscosity makes pure mycelium (mycelium without substrate) potentially suitable to realize clothing and shoes insulation, thus replacing the usual materials (such as padding and foams).

Even if most of mycelium technology applications are still under experimentation, some big brands from clothing, furniture, and packaging sectors are interested in this emerging manufacturing process, thus demonstrating its potential value for a new economy.



For more info, please contact:

  • Omar Maschi, PhD

Multisectoral Research and Innovation

Author: Omar Maschi

Multisectoral Research and Innovation Dept.