Mushroom sausages may sound like something off a vegan menu, but for Brunel University London student Aleksi Vesaluoma, they are the building material of the future. Developed in collaboration with architecture firm Astudio, they not only allow for building light, biodegradable structures, but have the added bonus of providing a delicious side dish for the morning bacon and eggs.

Making buildings out of something as fragile as a mushroom may seem like about as sensible as making a bridge out of wet newspaper, but using fungus as a structural material isn't as daft as it sounds. In fact, it has many advantages. For one thing, such materials are extremely light, they are biodegradable, don't require baking in a kiln, and they are, in a sense, self-assembling.

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Vesaluoma's Grown Structures, as he calls them, are made by taking the mycelium of an oyster mushroom and mixing it with damp cardboard. Mycelium is the vegetative part of the mushroom. That is, the fiber-like strands that spread out through the ground or dead vegetation looking for nutrients that makes up the vast bulk of the organism of which the mushrooms are just the tiniest tip of the necrophagus iceberg.

As these mycelia grow through the cardboard, they eat it, breaking up the organic matter into smaller particles that are easy to mold, then binding them together like glue. Pressed into a tubular cotton bandage to form "mushroom sausages," the material can be molded into desired shapes over four weeks as they become denser and harder. These can then be cut and assembled into the finished structure.

Vesaluoma doesn't say how strong his mushroom sausages are, but similar experiments aimed at making bricks out of mushrooms found that though the finished product may be 10,000 times less stiff than a house brick, it can still support the weight of 50 cars. However, the Brunel University sausages have the advantage over other attempts in that Vesaluoma doesn't kill off the fungus before assembly. This means it continues to grow and the sausages start sprouting tasty oyster mushrooms that the inventor says might make the material attractive for restaurateurs. But in the short term, Vesaluoma says the material could be used in creating structures for festivals or other short-run events that could be easily biodegraded afterwards.

"Right now the main factors holding back the mass-commercialization of mycelium materials are people's presumptions, as well as the power of the profit-driven materials industry," says Vesaluoma. "Mycelium materials are beneficial to us and the environment as well as just being … really cool. They're another great example of why we need to trust the intelligence of nature in helping us create more regenerative systems of manufacture."

Source: Brunel University London

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