Using Mycological Design Technology to Augment Human and Environmental Health in the Circular Economy
According to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the circular economy “is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, [and] regenerate natural systems” (“Circular Economy Concept” 2017.) Formaldehyde-based products and the synthetic polymers and adhesives derived from petroleum, which are currently used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, have presented significant human and environmental health problems across the planet. Our project revolves around using mycelium (the vegetative body and filamental root-like structure of white rot fungi) to upcycle plant-based waste from industrial agriculture and manufacturing to create regenerative, biologically-based alternatives to the conventional, toxic and non-renewable building materials, textiles, and other industrially manufactured products. The overall objective of our project is two-fold: 1) create, optimize, and standardize a process of biofabrication that engages the circular economy through the growth of edible/medicinal mushrooms; and 2) fabricate mycelium composites using agricultural byproducts and plant-based manufacturing waste to mold forms created through 3D printing and CNC routing. Moreover, by upcycling plant biomass residues through multiple cycles of remanufacturing and reuse, we will be able to grow a high-protein, nutrient-dense food while simultaneously producing a mycelium-based composite material from the same organism and plant-based feedstock. The most important aspect of our research on mycelium is in the exploration of its potential as a lignin-digesting aggregate biomaterial that can be used on every level in the circular economy lifecycle. From its rapid cultivation on plant biomass through the secretion of powerful digestive enzymes in the solid fermentation process, manufacturing and healthcare applications quickly emerge. We will be growing a variety of gourmet and medicinal mushrooms, and we will be molding mycelium composites into demonstrable building materials, acoustical panels, lightweight packaging, and biodegradable planter pots.