Bio-based materials have gained increasing popularity within the past decade due to their sustainable nature compared to traditional materials made from non-renewable resources. Synthetic materials often rely on plastics derived from fossil fuels, which are finite and harm the environment through pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Surprisingly, materials derived from mushrooms are excellent bio-based alternatives, as they have a significantly lower environmental impact, are low-cost to produce, and decompose quickly. Mushrooms are composed of a dense network of filaments known as mycelium. Mycelial fibers have been used in a variety of applications, like textiles, packaging, and soundproofing materials.
One of the most common ways of producing mycelium fibers is through cultivating it on a substrate. However, a recent study has uncovered another method of extracting mycelial fibers directly from the fruiting bodies of fungi, presenting a new way to utilize the residues from mushroom extracts and inedible fungi.
According to study leader Dr. Satomi Tagawa, this method will help revolutionize the way we create sustainable products: “Mushrooms, previously known primarily as a food resource, will now be utilized in everyday household items, allowing people to choose products that are safe, reliable, and environmentally friendly.”
Mycelial pulp is a unique form of mycelium that has been processed and refined from the fruiting bodies of mushrooms. Previous efforts to obtain these fibers have failed in the past since mechanical and chemical treatments destroy the structure of mycelia on a nano level. Yet, a team of researchers from Shinshu University, Japan have found a way to obtain mycelial fibers while keeping their structure intact.
To do so, the fruiting bodies of mushrooms are treated with sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide, then exposed to sunlight to remove their color. After bleaching, the pulp undergoes ultrasonic treatment to separate the fibers into individual strands at a mycelial level. This method is gentle enough to maintain the structure of mycelium, but effective in creating microscale fibers suitable for producing a wide range of materials such as one-dimensional yarns, two-dimensional films, and three-dimensional porous sponges.
“This technology has opened possibilities for upcycling unwanted by-products generated by the mushroom industry and making mushroom materials more circular and easier to reuse. We believe that further research on such sustainable materials and methods could create new industries, provide employment opportunities, and revitalize local communities,” says Dr. Tagawa.
While further research is required to fully develop this completely new material, the potential applications of mycelium pulp are a significant step forward in biomaterial science.