Israeli researcher develops low-carbon insulation material based on mushrooms


A researcher in Israel has developed a low-carbon insulation material based on fungal threads and rapeseed straw. Photo: AFP

Israel is without a doubt one of the world's main innovation hotspots, earning it the nickname of "Start-up Nation".

As such, one Israeli student has made an interesting discovery, drawing on the network of robust mushroom fibres called mycelium that grow abundantly underground.

By using this resource, the researcher has developed an insulation material for the construction industry that is stronger than polystyrene and, above all, has a very low carbon footprint.

From a medical cannabis technology incubator to a "laboratory" for wines made in extreme climatic conditions, the Negev – a desert region in southern Israel – is certainly a breeding ground for innovation.

It is also the home region of Achiya Livne, a researcher and doctoral student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who recently made the news with a promising invention.

The researcher has developed a plant-based insulating material with a virtually carbon-neutral footprint that could represent a sustainable alternative for the construction industry.

"As part of the global transformation to a circular economy, modern society faces the challenge of developing sustainable building materials that do not deplete non-renewable resources or generate environmentally destructive waste," explains Achiya Livne in a scientific paper published early September.

The material takes the form of blocks made from mycelium (the vegetative structure of fungi that is made up of a network of fine filaments) and rapeseed straw. These materials are recovered from agricultural waste.

"Bio-composites based on fungal mycelium grown on agricultural waste streams have the potential to serve this purpose, reducing the ecological impact of the construction industry and the conventional materials on which it currently relies," the researcher explains.

"Altogether, our results demonstrate that using bio-composite building materials based on fungal mycelium and local plant residues can provide a sustainable alternative to current practice," he concludes.

The researcher is currently working on a method to bypass the need to heat the mycelium, in order to minimise carbon dioxide emissions.

Mycelium is a precious resource, as it is very abundant and present almost everywhere on Earth. It is therefore particularly interesting in the field of construction, given that the manufacturing of cement (the main ingredient of concrete) alone accounts for approximately 8% of global CO2 emissions.

But this is not the only industry that can enjoy the green benefits of mycelium. This resource has been harnessed for some years by designers and clothing brands to produce more eco-friendly products.

This is the case of British designer Stella McCartney, who launched a bag made from mycelium in 2020 and, more recently, a bra top and cargo pants.

Meanwhile, the American start-up MycoWorks recently raised funds to start making mushroom leather, promising the virtually same properties as animal leather, but with a reduced environmental impact. – AFP Relaxnews

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