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Industrial Strength Fungus
February 3, 2010 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Industrial Strength Fungus. At an organic farm just outside Monterey, Calif., a super-eco building material is growing in dozens of darkened shipping containers. The farm is named Far West Fungi, and its rusting containers are full of all sorts of mushrooms--shiitake, reishi and pom-pom, to name a few. This new application of mushrooms is sometimes referred to as "mycotecture", but the idea of mycorestoration [TED talk: "6 ways mushrooms can save the world"] is not new.

Mycelium (the thin, white rootlike fibers of fungi) doesn't taste very good, but once it's dried, it has some remarkable properties. It's nontoxic, fireproof and mold- and water-resistant, and it traps more heat than fiberglass insulation. It's also stronger, pound for pound, than concrete. One artist, Phil Ross, has begun experimenting with building bricks made of mycelium. And a new company, Ecovative Design, is trying to create a biodegradable mushroom-based styrofoam that, when finished, can be used as garden compost. They have a blog and were highlighted in this NPR story.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess there's not mush room left in those containers.
posted by fight or flight at 9:30 AM on February 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Boys! Raise giant mushrooms in your cellar!
posted by redsparkler at 9:36 AM on February 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


No, really, it says one cubic inch of the material that Ecovative Design makes/grows contains 8 miles of mycelium fibers. Sheesh, and it's even cooler when I think about how careful we always have to be around fiberglass insulation. I, for one, welcome this new ability to attempt to convert my parents to the wisdom of greener living.
posted by redsparkler at 9:42 AM on February 3, 2010


"A week or two later, the finished product is popped out and the material rendered biologically inert."

"One of the beauties of Ecocradle is that unlike Styrofoam--which is hard to recycle, let alone biodegrade--this myco-material can easily serve as mulch in your garden."


I would like some more detail on how these two sentences coexist.
posted by cardboard at 9:46 AM on February 3, 2010


Look, goddammit, they already eat radiation and control minds. Can we please stop making these things even more versatile and powerful?

When an angry pseudopod that is harder than steel and can suck the life-energy right out of my body bursts through my basement wall leading an army of zombie-like thralls with little white bulbs sprouting from their foreheads, I will know who to blame and I will be writing a very strongly-worded letter.
posted by Scattercat at 9:57 AM on February 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


ooo is this about the dark side of mushroom farming?
posted by Catblack at 10:00 AM on February 3, 2010


Isn't fungus being mold-resistant a little like fire being fire-resistant?
posted by veggieboy at 10:08 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I would like some more detail on how these two sentences coexist.

When it's dry and sealed, it's good insulation. Add water and bugs, and it becomes compost. That last bit is what regular styrofoam doesn't have. I'd be interested in seeing how this compares in R-value with Roxul, insulation that's basically fiberglass made of rocks.

Though the idea of that I'm deciding whether or not to insulate my house with a foam made orr rocks or mushroom roots is a a little wierd.
posted by mhoye at 10:27 AM on February 3, 2010


It traps more heat than fiberglass insulation. It's also stronger, pound for pound, than concrete.

Ground up newspaper traps more heat than fiberglass, and the pound for pound comparison isn't really a great one, because I'm guessing it's also significantly less dense than concrete. Which would mean you'd need a huge volume of the stuff to replace the concrete.
posted by electroboy at 10:33 AM on February 3, 2010


*shudder* I was working in Oxnard CA when the local mushroom farm (evidently the largest one in the state) caught fire. For a week the city was shrouded in a choking smoke that smelled like burning crap; one couldn't go outside without coughing and eyes watering like being hit by tear gas. Evidedntly that farm had major safety and anti-union issues as well. So if these are the people who are going to be making our building materials, I'd rather stick with wood.
posted by happyroach at 11:38 AM on February 3, 2010


I want my office to be built using mycobricks, so that I can truly claim to be treated like a mushroom.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:15 PM on February 3, 2010


ooo is this about the dark side of mushroom farming?

No, that would be milking the cow while you're peaking.
posted by mannequito at 12:33 PM on February 3, 2010


From the original post: Mycelium (the thin, white rootlike fibers of fungi) doesn't taste very good...

Not true! Actually, it tastes just like chicken. (quorn.com) Yeah, I know, made of fungus, tastes like chicken and has egg in it, so they name it after a grain. Did they miss a kingdom?

While this is technically made from the whole organism (Fusarium venenatum, but a patented strain), my mycologists friends tell me that it's the mycelium that makes up the bulk of the product. The long parallel fibers are tightly packed together using a centrifuge, and then bound with egg whites resulting in a texture very much like cooked muscle. It's creepy how much this stuff will remind you of chicken. It's also flavored artificially to taste like chicken. Still it's pretty good, but it's mycelium. You're eating mycelium. It reminds me a lot of sulfur shelf, but that's the fruiting body of the organism. Same texture but no artificial flavors.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:14 PM on February 3, 2010


So if these are the people who are going to be making our building materials, I'd rather stick with wood.

Because a mushroom farm burned near you and it was gross?

Fiberglass plants catch on fire pretty regularly and the smoke is completely toxic. So I'm not really getting your point, I guess.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:25 PM on February 3, 2010


Wood is made of fiberglass now?
posted by electroboy at 8:19 PM on February 3, 2010


This one is very close to home: I drive the FarWest delivery truck. Not kidding.
posted by MChristian at 10:37 PM on February 3, 2010


Darkness is Void; Juffo-Wup is light.
posted by Tacodog at 3:00 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


People use wood for insulation?
posted by rubah at 3:56 PM on February 4, 2010


People use wood for insulation?

Yes.
posted by electroboy at 5:22 PM on February 4, 2010


Wood is made of fiberglass now?

Of course not. But if you're building with sticks, chances are you're insulating with fiberglass.

The real point is, if you are choosing to support a building practice based on whether or not it is bad when a plant making it burns down near your house, A) that seems silly, B) a lot of building material manufacturing is not nice to have burn down near your house.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:10 PM on February 4, 2010


Oh sure, I'm mostly snarking, but it's worth pointing out that there's a big difference between fiberglass insulation, which is just glass fibers covered with kraft paper, and objects made from fiberglass (more accurately fiber reinforced plastic), which is glass fibers with an epoxy or plastic binder. Glass fibers don't burn, it's the binder that does, and it's the binder that's toxic.
posted by electroboy at 7:09 AM on February 5, 2010


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