Renewable raw materialsCan mushrooms fix our world?
They are believed to have the power to bring about radical change. In addition to being useful in the food and medicine industries, mushrooms are also used to make compostable houses, leather, and more. Their potential is enormous.
Mushrooms look a bit like living things from another planet. They are neither plants nor animals. Of the estimated five million species, we only know about 140,000. Only their carpophores are visible, and often only when they end up on our plates. Most mushrooms are actually found underground, networked, communicated – and can be immensely sized.
This is the case, for example, in Oregon, in the United States. Here, a dark armillary stretches over an area of more than 9 km.two🇧🇷 The age of this fungus is estimated at 2400 years. In the Engadine there is also an ancient representative of the species, measuring 500 by 800 meters.
A force for radical change
However, it is not the age or size of the mushrooms that makes them more important, but the possibility of being able to use them in many fields as alternative raw materials to materials whose production releases a lot of CO.two🇧🇷 In fact, a real craze was born around mushrooms, which embody potential saviors of the environment.
The usefulness of mushrooms in medicine has been known for a long time. In 1928, British physician Alexander Fleming obtained penicillin from mold, which allowed him to develop the first antibiotic. Since then, these eukaryotic living beings occupy a place of choice in this field. Mushrooms are also valuable aids in cheese making or in washing and purification processes.
From shoes to furniture and houses
Because of their structure made up of hyphae – individual microscopic filaments – that come together in a network of mycelium, mushrooms can be used for many other things.
For example, it is possible to replace animal hides with mushroom products. American start-up MycoWorks has developed a method for the targeted growth of mycelium in twisted form. The result is a particularly durable leather substitute called Reishi. By the way, mushroom leather has already been used in the automotive industry.
New York startup Ecovative Design, on the other hand, manufactures an alternative to the agglomerate of mushrooms and waste, which makes furniture construction possible. With its product called MycoFoam, Ecovative Design also offers a polystyrene substitute and, with MycoFlex, a mushroom-based filling.
Several pioneers also experimented with the manufacture of building materials. The Swiss company Mycosuisse in Emmenbrücke (LU) has developed, among other things, “mushroom bricks” and stable floors. One day we may have compostable mushroom houses that can replace concrete, which emits a lot of COtwo🇧🇷 Mushroom products can also be used as materials for insulation, packaging, and as a biofuel.
A solution for the future
It is estimated that, of the 17 sustainable development goals established in 2015 by the UN, ten problems could be solved with the use of mushrooms, mainly in the food sector.
In short, mushrooms are credited with the power to radically change things. However, there is still no mass market for mushroom products, with research and production still taking place in niches. That’s why the Fraunhofer Institute estimates that it will take 5 to 10 years of development before mushrooms fully exert their magical and restorative powers in the environment.