The Secret Is in The Mycelium
Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. The mass of hyphae is sometimes called shiro, especially within the fairy ring fungi. Fungal colonies composed of mycelia are found in soil and on or within many other substrates. A typical single spore germinates into a homokaryotic mycelium, which cannot reproduce sexually; when two compatible homokaryotic mycelia join and form a dikaryotic mycelium, that mycelium may form fruiting bodies such as mushrooms.
One of the primary roles of fungi in an ecosystem is to decompose organic compounds.
Professor of Biology from the University Union, Steve Horton, explains this, mostly underground placed part of fungus (what appears on the surface are the reproductive parts) as tiny biological chain of tubular cells.
"This chain of stations can communicate with the outside world, in the sense that it gets information what are the conditions in terms of food, light and moisture," he said. "The mycelium takes nutrients from the available organic materials such as wood and used them as food, and as a result of that we get the growth of fungus."
"When you think about mushrooms and their mycelia, you realize that their function is in ecological sence very important in the breakdown of materials," says Horton. "Without fungi and bacteria we would be buried in God knows how many meters of waste which would consist of plant and animal tissue."
Observing something extremely subtle as dental floss, we see that the mycelium grows into, through and around any organic substrate. Whether it leaves or mulch, mycelium digests these natural materials and it can combine them all together into a cohesive cover.
The company Ecovative Design of Green Island, New York, exploits this mycotic power, with the help of Professor Horton and another researcher from the University Union, Ronald Bucinella, associate professor of mechanical engineering.
The Products From Fungi
Evocative use of several types of fungi to produce environmentally friendly products. The process starts by raising products, such as cotton trash, seed husks of rice, buckwheat and oat, hemp, and other plant materials. All they are sterilized, mixed with nutrients and then put on cooling. Then, mycelium spores are added that are extremely well reproduced, so that soon every cubic inch of material contains millions of tiny fibers of mushrooms.
This complex network then grows in the mold of whatever shape we want. In Ecovative, everything is about creation. When you get the desired texture, strength and other characteristics of the product, it is removed from the mold, and heated and dried to kill the mycelium and stop its growth.
Advantages of Using Fungi Products
These products are completely natural, they are created in less than five days, they do not cause allergic reactions and are absolutely non-toxic. Even more impressive is the fact that they are resistant to fire up to a certain point and as resistant to water as styrofoam, but they will not just lie around and needlessly take up space in landfills. They are also more UV stable than foam as they are not based on petrochemicals and they will not emit volatile organic compounds. When exposed to the real microbes, they will be decomposed within 180 days on any landfill or in any yard.
Mycelium is also cheap because it can be grown on farms using the trash that can not be used to feed the animals or from which we can not get fuel. Besides that, fungi can be multiplied without sunlight and excessive human surveillance in simple containers at room temperature - no need for vast greenhouses with expensive systems to control temperature. It also means a lower level of carbon dioxide and Evocative hope that the moment will come when these products are going to replace all the plastic and foam on the market.
The professors and researchers from the Union, Steve Horton and Ronald Bucinell are helping with that too. In Horton’s laboratory he and his students are working with the types of fungus that Evocative uses in production.
"We manipulate single strain in different ways, to see if we can create other types of fungi that would suit the specific demands of the company," says Horton. "For example, it may be useful for Evocative to have some strains which could grow faster."
Associate professor of mechanical engineering Bucinell Ronald and his students also contribute to the research and development of Evocative. Bucinell’s specialty is experimental mechanics and mechanics of reinforced materials and his task is to examine the samples of solid materials by various parameters. This includes testing whether the mycelium binds better to one herbal material or to another, and whether the way of producing it makes it stronger or weaker.
The important method used in this production is Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Evocative company founders are grateful to their premium partners.
"Steve is truly unique because his research over the past 28 years has focused on the effects of genetic pathways of physiology of fungi, which is an important factor in what we can do with the mycelia," said one of the founders of Evocativea - Gavin McIntyre. "Ron is one of the foremost experts in the field of composite design. We are very pleased and we appreciate the opportunity to work closely with the two remarkable scientists. "
"This is a complete novelty in the field of materials and collaboration allows us to learn quickly," McIntyre continued. "It's really important when you are trying to replace the plastic."
The project is financed through the funds of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Agency for Energy Research and Development of the Federal State of New York (NYSERDA).