Is Fungi the New Fireproof Building Material?

Scientist have found it’s possible to grow fungi in thin sheets to be used for fire-retardant cladding.

3 Min Read
Fungi as a fire retardant material
Researchers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia are chemically manipulating the composition of mycelium to harness its fire-retardant properties.Image courtesy of RMIT

Mycelium, a network of fungal strands that can thrive on organic waste and in darkness, could be a basis for sustainable fireproofing.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) researchers in Australia are chemically manipulating the composition of mycelium to harness its fire-retardant properties.

An expert in biotechnology and mycology and Associate Professor Tien Huynh said the research has shown that mycelium can be grown from renewable organic waste.

“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,” said Huynh, from the School of Science.

The novel method of creating mycelium sheets that are paper-thin and works without pulverizing the mycelium’s filament network. Instead, the researchers used different growth conditions and chemicals to make the thin, uniform, and fire-resistant material.

mycelium as fire retardent

The researchers are focused on creating bio-derived, fire-retardant cladding for buildings to prevent fires.

Associate Professor Everson Kandare, an expert in the flammability and thermal properties of biomaterials and co-author of the paper, said the mycelium has strong potential as a fireproofing material.

“The great thing about mycelium is that it forms a thermal protective char layer when exposed to fire or radiant heat. The longer and the higher temperature at which mycelium char survives, the better its use as a fireproof material,” said Kandare.

Beyond being effective, mycelium-based cladding can be produced from renewable organic waste and is not harmful to the environment when burned, he explained. Where composite cladding panels are used, they usually contain plastics – which produce toxic fumes and heavy smoke when they burn.

“Bromide, iodide, phosphorus and nitrogen-containing fire retardants are effective, but have adverse health and environmental effects. They pose health and environmental concerns, as carcinogens and neurotoxins that can escape and persist in the environment cause harm to plant and animal life,” said Kandare.

“Bioderived mycelium produces naturally occurring water and carbon dioxide.”

This research could eventually lead to improved and eco-friendly cladding for buildings.

RMIT researchers on mycelium use for fireproof material

“Plastics are quick and easy to produce, whereas fungi is slow to grow and relatively harder to produce at scale,” said Huynh. “However, we’ve been approached by the mushroom industry about using their fungal-incorporated waste products. Collaborating with the mushroom industry would remove the need for new farms while producing products that meet fire safety needs in a sustainable way.”

The researchers are now looking to create fungal mats reinforced by engineering fibers to delay ignition, reduce the flaming intensity, and improve fire safety ranking.

The paper, “Fireproofing flammable composites using mycelium: Investigating the effect of deacetylation on the thermal stability and fire reaction properties of mycelium” (lead author Nattanan Chulikavit), is published in the Polymer Degradation and Stability journal.

About the Author(s)

Powder Bulk Solids Staff

Established in 1983, Powder & Bulk Solids (PBS) serves industries that process, handle, and package dry particulate matter, including the food, chemical, and pharmaceutical markets.

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