9 September 2019

Utrecht researches fungal-based building materials

Millions for fungal architecture

Utrecht is part of a new fungal architecture project. Fungus-based bricks make building materials more sustainable and self-repairing. The so-called Fungar project will receive 2.85 million euros from Horizon 2020, of which 720,000 euros will go to Utrecht University.

New building material based on fungi. That’s the idea behind the Fungar project, a collaboration between Utrecht, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Italy. "We want to make building materials with zero emissions", says Han Wösten, who will lead the Utrecht part of the project, together with Marc Baldus. "The construction industry is extremely polluting. The production of concrete and cement consumes enormous amounts of energy and raw materials. Fungi can play a major role in the production of sustainable building materials."

Waste

The professor of microbiology has already made composites by bringing fungi into a waste stream. "You then kill the fungus and you end up with a composite: a kind of woody material, but without formaldehyde or epoxy. The fungus is both glue and rope at the same time. It is not a replacement, but an improvement." In another process, the fungus completely breaks down the waste stream and creates a kind of leather.

 

It sounds futuristic, but by working on extremes, all kinds of applications are coming closer

This new project focuses on composites: a kind of fungus bricks. "We already know that such a structure is sturdy and well-insulated. The next step is to make functional structures. We want to develop a structural substrate by using live fungal mycelium to make mycelium-based electronics and implement sensorial fusion. The building then in fact becomes a sensitive and adaptive system: when it is warm, it becomes porous, when it is cold, the material has an insulating effect. By not killing off the fungus, a possible hole can grow back and you have self-repairing material”, says Wösten. "It sounds futuristic, but by working on extremes, all kinds of applications are coming closer.”

Fungar

The Fungar project is part of the Horizon2020 programme Novel ideas for radically new technologies. In the project, mycologists from Utrecht will provide the fungal knowledge. Among other things, it will investigate which components of fungi are suitable for binding electrically charged particles, in order to select or improve fungi in a targeted manner. The consortium is further comprised of architects and designers from the Danish research institute CITA, computer scientists and biophysicists from the University of West England in Bristol, and Italian experts in mycelium-based technologies for the production from MOGU. A total of 2.85 million euros has been allocated to the project, which will start in December.