The idea of using fungus mycelium as a binding agent for lignocellulosic materials is not new. Many research groups and companies around the world are currently adopting various approaches to this fascinating topic. One of these companies is Wood K plus, which has been working on this issue with regard to solid wood and wood composites for a long time now, pursuing a number of different avenues and exchanging information with several partner companies. The result was the “Myco-Insulation” project, which was submitted for and approved by the 34th Bridge call run by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG).

The 3-year project is being carried out in association with the Institute of Experimental Physics at the JKU Linz, DPM Holzdesign GmbH and the Waldviertler Pilzgarten and focuses its research on developing a cross-sectoral concept for the use of organic waste from edible mushroom farming in bio-based insulation materials.

In the cultivation of edible and medicinal mushrooms, many tons of lignocellulosic mushroom substrate are left over every day once the mushrooms have been harvested. So far, this substrate has been immediately disposed of as compost or fuel. It would therefore be highly desirable if this waste could be put to more worthwhile use, for instance as a source material in the production of building materials such as insulating materials. First experiments and existing studies indicate that materials made from biogenous waste with fungus mycelium as the sole binding agent (so-called myco-materials) are extremely versatile. Since they cost little to produce and are perfect for recycling, myco-materials offer a high degree of ecological and economic sustainability that serves the interests of the bioeconomy.

The Myco-Insulation project will conduct research into the production of slab insulants with fungus binders and made of straw and other lignocellulosic substrates left over from large-scale cultivation of edible and medicinal mushrooms. Lab-scale experiments are planned to optimize the growth parameters and harvesting processes in mushroom cultivation in such a way that the yield of high-quality mushroom fruit bodies is maximized and, at the same time, the substrates left over after harvesting can serve as “ready-to-use” slab insulants.

The major challenge facing the Myco-Insulation project is designing and manipulating the growth processes in such a way that a predefined mould is used to ensure that myco-materials develop with homogeneous, smooth and dense surface structures that are sufficiently light and porous, yet still have the consistency needed not only to give them the requisite insulating properties but also to make them easy to work with and process. At the same time, cultivation and harvest of mushroom fruit bodies should take place in the same growth process in the interests of “cross-sectoral” use, and the fruit bodies should be optimized in accordance with the requirements of edible and medicinal mushroom production.