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Fungus Could Keep Out the Cold

Thursday, May 5, 2016

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An Alaska researcher may have developed a sustainable way to insulate buildings and infrastructure from the state’s icy permafrost—using a mushroom.

Phillipe Amstislavski, associate professor of public health at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, has been leading a team that has developed an insulation material from mycelium, sort of the “root” part of a fungus.

Professor Phillipe Amstislavski
Photos: Philip Hall / UAA

Phillipe Amstislavski’s research personalizes mycelium insulation to the Alaskan environment.

According to the university, the three-year research project was funded by a campus INNOVATE grant of $25,000.

At the outset, the study, undertaken with civil engineering professor Joey Yang, was titled, “A Biomimetic Alternative to High-End Fabricated Polymeric Foams: Feasibility Study of Native White-Rot Fungi-Based Insulation Material for Geoengineering Applications."

Care and Feeding

The medium is a white-rot fungus common in Alaska, according to the school.

The key to creating the material is “feeding” the fungus the right material. (There’s a patent pending for that, according to the university, so the researchers haven't yet revealed the formula.)

Mycelium material

The medium is a white-rot fungus common in Alaska.

Beyond the environmental factors involved—a mushroom insulation would be biodegradable and nontoxic—the researchers note that the fungus grows quickly. That means it could potentially be grown on-site, and could grow back if damaged.

It can also be used in a "dead" state, the researchers said.

Other Applications

It’s not the first time we’ve heard about fungus-based building and insulation materials; mycelium as a biofoam for human use has been discussed for some years now. Firms like Green Island, NY-based Ecovative and San Francisco’s MycoWorks are developing a slew of mycelium-based biomaterials for different construction applications.

Amstislavski’s research personalizes the method to the Alaskan environment; the harsh conditions of the northern climate would be too much for the previously developed fungal foams, the researchers argue.

In Alaska, insulation is used to protect infrastructure like roads and pipelines, in addition to buildings, from permafrost as well as cold air.

The school reports that two papers based on the research are currently on their way to being published in scholarly journals.

   

Tagged categories: Bio-based materials; Green building; Insulation

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/5/2016, 9:37 AM)

Ecovative was doing mushroom insulation trials in 2009, but switched to focus on their packing material product: Fungus instead of styrofoam.


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