Mushroom-Grown Chairs Are Strong and Compostable

Mushrooms could be used to produce the manufacturing material of the future Continue reading →

You might think of mushrooms as something you put on pizza. But for a while, researchers have been looking at using some types of fungi as biological factories to produce a tough, durable material that could be used for everything from chairs to entire buildings.

Terreform ONE, a Brooklyn-based group that promotes urban design, recently was named as a finalist in the Spark Awards design competition for using mycoform, as the material is called, to produce a suite of "multi-curved biomaterial furniture."

The project occupies "the intersection of parametric CAD design and synthetic biology," according to Terraform's description of the project.

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To produce mycoform, Terraform used Ganoderma lucidum, a fungal species that has a long history in China and other Asian countries as a folk medicine. But the mushroom has another useful attribute as well - enzymes that enable it to digest a wide variety of cellulose-based agricultural bioproducts. In the project, the researchers fed Ganoderma a mix of discarded wood chips, gypsum, and oat bran. The resulting material can be integrated with a bacterial cellulose skin to create a hard biopolymer, a type of natural plastic that is suitable for manufacturing.

"This low-tech, low energy process is pollution free, and contains a low embodied energy as part of a local ecosystem," according to Terraform's description of the project. (Here's a video explaining it all in more detail.)

Pieces of Terraform can be shaped to produce exotic-looking furniture. But the material is tough enough that it can be used to construct buildings. In a previous experiment, the researchers grew mycoform bricks.

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"This low-tech, low energy process is pollution free, and contains a low embodied energy as part of a local ecosystem," Terraform notes. "The technology is easily transferable to the developing world. At the end of the useful product life cycle, Mycoform can be composted and safely reintroduced back into the environment, where it can be naturally biodegraded."

Genspace, another Brooklyn organization that provides community access to laboratory facilities, assisted with the furniture project.

A close-up view shows a bench produced from mycoform, a material grown by mushrooms.

Cities are inherently unnatural. Their sunlight-absorbing concrete, asphalt and metal surfaces help create urban heat islands that are warmer than rural areas, and the wind-blocking effect of tall buildings and lack of trees and plants can concentrate pollution and make the air less breathable. That's why, in a growing number of places, architects are turning rooftops into green spaces by planting vegetation. Green roofs also provide habitats for birds and other living creatures, as well as a way to treat and recycle used water. They also make the urban space more pleasant for inhabitants. You can find a global database of green roof projects at www.greenroof.com. Here are a few of the more interesting green roof projects.

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Chicago's city hall has a sprawling green roof which covers the equivalent of a city block. Chicago claims to have more green roofs than any other U.S. city.

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In Tongyang, China, rooftop gardens provide inhabitants with fresh produce.

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The wildflower garden roof at Mountain Equipment Coop, Toronto, Canada. Rooftops with gardens must be sturdy, since the weight can amount to 150 pounds per square foot.

Greenery envelops the rooftop of a building on Lafayette Street in Lower Manhattan.

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The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco has an undulating green roof that evokes the city's hilly terrain.

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Not all green roofs are flat, Here's a pitched roof at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va.

The rooftop of a Ford Motor Co. truck plant in Dearborn, Mich., which covers 10.4 acres, has been called the biggest living roof in North America.

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