Fireproof fungus offers sustainable cladding alternative

Fireproof fungus offers sustainable cladding alternative

Flat sheets of a fungal material could provide a safe and sustainable new way to fireproof buildings, according to researchers.

The panels, developed by a team at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, are made of mycelium, a network of fungal strands that can thrive on organic waste and in darkness. Touted in recent years as a solution to countless problems, from chemical pollution to biological control of asthma-causing house-dust mites, fungi’s latest application could be in construction thanks to the work by the RMIT researchers, who chemically manipulated its composition to boost its fire-retardant properties. 

The mycelium can be grown from organic waste, said associate professor Tien Huynh, a specialist in biotechnology and mycology. “Fungi are usually found in a composite form mixed with residual feed material, but we found a way to grow pure mycelium sheets that can be layered and engineered into different uses – from flat panels for the building industry to a leather-like material for the fashion industry,” she said. 

Thin, uniform and fire-resistant 

The team created paper-thin, wallpaper-like sheets using what they described as a “novel method” that works without pulverising the mycelium’s filament network. Instead, they used different growth conditions and chemicals to make the thin, uniform and fire-resistant material. 

The researchers are focused on creating bio-derived, fire-retardant cladding for buildings, which they hope could help prevent tragedies like the Grenfell Tower blaze, which was accelerated by a highly combustible cladding component. The mycelium has strong potential as a fireproofing material, said associate professor Everson Kandare, a specialist in the flammability and thermal properties of biomaterials and co-author of a paper on the work. 


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