Develop the best available mycelium biocomposite that can be used as a circular, biodegradable insulation material for the construction sector. That is the goal of the Mythic project. Recent research projects have already concluded that mycelium biocomposites have significant potential to replace traditional, fossil-based thermal and acoustic insulation materials. With Mythic, we are one step closer to this dream. We visited the partners.
It all starts with the material research of mycelium, the ‘underground network of mushrooms.’ What are the properties of the mycelium biocomposite that we use for insulation? This question is of utmost importance for the field. Does it meet market standards? At MNEXT, material research has been conducted on the thermal insulation, acoustic insulation, and moisture absorption of mycelium. This includes fire resistance, water resistance, and sound absorption.
An important result is that the thermal conductivity value is on par with the best insulation materials currently on the market. For experts; the material can achieve an RC value of 6 with a thickness of 18 centimeters, making it suitable for effective insulation.
True cost and environmental impact
Despite many benefits of the material itself, there are also drawbacks to mention. The current (laboratory) process is quite labor-intensive, resulting in high final costs. Stefano Roccio, a researcher at the MNEXT Biobased Building research group, has focused on improving production processes by exploring possibilities for cost reduction and less environmental impact. He emphasizes the importance of efficiency and stability in the growth conditions of mycelium. “There is still much to be gained in this area. The better we understand this, the more efficient the process can be,” says Stefano.
The project also initiates plans for further automation of production processes to reduce costs. Stefano shares his enthusiasm about a future project aimed at fully automating the production of mycelium materials. “Within this initiative, we will collaborate with regional partners who build machines, as well as companies from Italy and England that already produce mycelium materials on an industrial scale.”
Lydia Fraaije, Biomimicry Architect at FRAAi Architects and a partner in Mythic, advocates for mycelium biocomposites in construction. “My focus is on biomimicry, an approach where designs, processes, and systems in nature are studied as inspiration for solutions to human challenges and problems. And what is a better example of biomimicry than working with fungi and its mycelium network. I want to contribute to the development of mycelium materials to use them for creating beautiful designs with functions not possible with conventional materials.” Lydia participates in the project to brainstorm about the applications of mycelium and to design to showcase the material’s aesthetic side. In this way, she helps improve the public perception of the material. Social acceptance is a crucial aspect, apart from its function within the building. It is also important to let the public know that mycelium biocomposites are not harmful. Interestingly, there are indications that mycelium biocomposites cannot be attacked by other fungi, giving mycelium an antifungal property.
Lydia is excited about introducing mycelium to the market: “I say, let’s really start building with it. For the future, it has many design possibilities. We could have a completely different type of architecture. The way it grows, there is no other building material that has these characteristics. It would be next-level architecture, built with mycelium.”
Technical requirements for the construction sector
Finally, we speak with Janine van Cann from Isolco B.V. The company focuses on sustainable applications in construction. One of these applications is wood wool cement panels made from certified wood, combined with lime (or FUTURCEM™) and water. This results in a Cradle-to-Cradle Gold (C2C) certified building material with a very long lifespan that can be recycled after its lifecycle. Why is Isolco involved in the Mythic project? Janine: “When the panels are installed in, for example, a school or sports facility, additional thermal and acoustic absorption is desired. Here, we want to combine our C2C panels with a sustainable insulation material. Perhaps mycelium biocomposite.”
Within Mythic, Isolco primarily plays an advisory role. They are close to the market and understand the technical aspects that the market demands. There is a lot of collaboration with MNEXT, where material research takes place. “We are also testing various prototypes in our workshop. For example, how does the mycelium biocomposite react to different types of glue? This is specifically important for us because the insulation material is attached to the wood wool panels. We then provide feedback to the researchers at MNEXT.” The results are also valuable for other MNEXT projects related to mycelium materials, such as Building on Mycelium.
Janine is hopeful about the use of mycelium in the construction sector. “I would like to exhibit the material at trade fairs in the coming years and find pilot projects where it can be used. Make people think about the material, see how they react, create positive connotations. If we really want to enter the market with mycelium biocomposite as insulation material, the technical requirements must be met. Like our other solutions: a product with a clear and well-founded story. Once that happens, I am confident that it will succeed.”
Like Stefano, Janine is also looking forward to the new automation project, in which Isolco is also a partner, focusing on scaling up the material. “There is still a way to go, but I am convinced that the knowledge developed in such projects is of great value. And we will continue with that!”