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Magic Mushroom Material

In the search for more sustainable construction materials, few people would consider mushrooms. But Californian artist and inventor Phil Ross is making bricks out of the fungus, and they are stronger than concrete.
Ross grows the mushrooms in brick-sized molds and feeds them with sawdust and other waste materials. As they digest the cellulose in the sawdust, they convert it into long threads of chitin, the same fiber that insect exoskeletons are made of. These fibers form underground tangles called mycelium.

When dried, these fibers are lightweight, durable, waterproof, non-toxic, and fire-resistant. The material is also biodegradable and insulating, which merges multiple construction and environmental needs into a single medium. And it’s so strong that it requires heavy-duty steel blades to cut it.

Ross says the mushroom bricks can be grown in about a week from a mixture poured into a mold, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg—or the compost pile.

Like plaster or cement, mycelium can be cast into any shape or grown around any kind of skeleton or frame, providing endless possibilities and creativity from construction to fine art and beyond.

Ross has opened a small lab to grow mushrooms into chairs, stools, and other furniture, using local agricultural waste. Eventually he plans to build an entire house out of the mycelium as both art and shelter.

Ross says his patent-pending formula can be used to build virtually anything.

“It has the potential to be a substitute for many petroleum-based plastics,” he says. “It’s left the art world and seems to have entered a science fiction novel or something like that.”

Mushrooms may not just be for dinner anymore. They may also be what we wear, drive in, and live in, as they provide a stronger and more sustainable building material for the world.

This story is brought to you by Arroyo Seco Live. “Building community through creativity.
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