In recent years, the pursuit of sustainable materials has led researchers to explore the world of biomaterials derived from renewable resources. Among these innovative biomaterials, mycelium and bacterial cellulose have garnered significant attention for their unique properties and potential applications in architecture and design. Both these biomaterials hold promise in providing sustainable and biodegradable alternatives to conventional synthetic materials, making them an exciting avenue for creating eco-friendly structures. In this article, we delve into the compatibility and functionality of mycelium and bacterial cellulose as biohybrid composites and explore their potential impact on sustainable architecture.
Mycelium, the root structure of fungi, has been extensively studied for its ability to rapidly grow on various forms of waste materials, creating robust and durable composite materials. Researchers have successfully used mycelium composites as structural bulk materials in projects like MycoTree, MycoCreate-2, and El Monolito Micelio. On the other hand, bacterial cellulose shares many properties with plant cellulose and has found applications in the medical field and even fashion design projects.
While the individual properties of mycelium and bacterial cellulose are well understood, the real potential lies in combining these biomaterials to create innovative biohybrid structures. The ability to use multi-microbial systems could lead to stronger, more durable biomaterials with transformed aesthetics for architectural applications.
The BioKnit prototype, developed in the Hub for Biotechnology in the Built Environment (HBBE), exemplifies this innovative approach. It brings mycelium and bacterial cellulose together with textiles using knitting technologies. The knitted fabric acts as a scaffold, guiding and enhancing the growth of the organisms. Mycelium, in a composite form, provides bulk strength to the knitted structure, enabling the creation of a 1.8-meter high free-standing vault. Bacterial cellulose, on the other hand, adds a new optical and tactile quality to the system, acting as a surface treatment and self-adhered tactile skin to the mycelium/knit composite.
To test the compatibility of mycelium and bacterial cellulose, researchers conducted preliminary design experiments and adopted a material tinkering approach. The results demonstrated that under optimal conditions, mycelium and bacterial cellulose can grow together, forming composites with a diverse array of functions. However, challenges related to contamination and competition during the growth phase need to be addressed to fully unlock the potential of these biomaterial composites.
Contamination, particularly in the presence of both living mycelium and bacterial cellulose, posed a challenge during the experiments. The increased humidity and the presence of sugar from the BC culture created an environment conducive to mold growth. To overcome this issue, researchers may need to adjust the timeline of the setup or implement active ventilation systems during growth.
The use of a knit scaffold played a crucial role in facilitating the attachment and integration of mycelium and bacterial cellulose. The knit scaffold not only allowed both biomaterials to grow together but also provided adjustability and breathability, making it an essential element in the fabrication process.
Furthermore, the choice of mycelium strains and bacterial cellulose cultures can influence the properties of the resulting composite material. Different strains may exhibit variations in growth rates, mechanical properties, and even coloration. Researchers need to carefully select the most suitable strains to achieve specific architectural objectives.
The compatibility of mycelium and bacterial cellulose as biomaterial composites presents an exciting prospect for sustainable architecture and design. As researchers continue to refine the fabrication process and address challenges like contamination, these biohybrid materials hold tremendous promise in reshaping the construction industry. By harnessing the power of living organisms, we can create innovative, eco-friendly structures that not only reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources but also contribute to a greener, more sustainable future.
As we explore the untapped potential of biomaterial composites, the boundaries of sustainable architecture are pushed, opening new avenues for environmentally conscious design. The integration of mycelium and bacterial cellulose into architectural practices could lead to the development of lightweight, biodegradable building materials with reduced environmental impact. These materials have the potential to revolutionize the construction industry by offering a more sustainable alternative to traditional building materials.
Additionally, the growth of mycelium and bacterial cellulose can be tailored to specific design requirements, allowing architects and designers to create unique and customizable structures. The biomaterials’ adaptability and versatility offer a wide range of design possibilities, from intricate and artistic facades to load-bearing structural elements.
The use of mycelium and bacterial cellulose in architecture aligns with the principles of the circular economy. As these biomaterials are biodegradable, they can be easily decomposed and reintegrated into the natural environment, contributing to a closed-loop system that minimizes waste and promotes sustainability.
Beyond their practical applications, mycelium and bacterial cellulose also introduce a new aesthetic dimension to architectural design. The organic and natural textures of these biomaterials add a sense of harmony and connection to the environment, blurring the boundaries between the built and natural world.
However, there are still challenges to overcome before mycelium and bacterial cellulose can be widely adopted in mainstream architectural practices. Standardization of production processes, ensuring consistent material properties, and addressing potential regulatory barriers are vital steps in scaling up the use of these biomaterials.
As the fields of biotechnology and architecture converge, interdisciplinary collaboration will play a crucial role in unlocking the full potential of mycelium and bacterial cellulose in sustainable architecture. Engineers, biologists, architects, and material scientists must join forces to explore new possibilities and develop innovative fabrication techniques.
In the future, we may witness a shift from traditional construction methods to biofabrication, where living organisms play an active role in creating our built environment. Imagine buildings and structures that not only provide shelter and functionality but also actively contribute to the ecosystem, fostering biodiversity and supporting sustainable living.
Mycelium and bacterial cellulose represent a promising frontier in sustainable architecture. Their ability to grow on waste materials, their biodegradability, and their aesthetic appeal make them ideal candidates for eco-friendly construction. However, further research and development are necessary to fully realize their potential and address existing challenges. By embracing these biomaterials and incorporating interdisciplinary collaboration, we can shape a greener and more sustainable future for architecture and the planet. The convergence of nature and technology in biohybrid composites offers an exciting glimpse into the future of sustainable design and construction.