Mushrooms, believe it or not, are the way of the future. And if they will not be, then it will be a loss for all of us, and here is why. As it turns out, there are plenty of things that we can make with mushrooms. One company, MycoWorks, a San Francisco-based startup, is engineering all sorts of sustainable, eco-friendly and, above all, versatile materials made from fungi, that one day, can be used to make batteries, clothing, cars, houses, and even spaceships. According to them, mushrooms are the industrial material of the future.
The company is also partnering up with two major footwear manufacturing companies, in order to bring these mushroom shoes to the people. These new materials can easily replace both leather and foams used in regular shoes.
The main part of the fungi used to make this material is the mycelium. These are like their roots that go beneath the ground or within tree bark and allow to fungi to both draw their sustenance, as well as to communicate with each other.
This is why Sophia Wang, the CEO of the company, together with Phil Ross, the CTO and co-founder, together with an entire team of biologists, mycologists, and artists, are working to bring this new material to the world. What they do is to take these mycelia and grow them in organic material such as corn husks, sawdust and other agricultural waste. In less than a week, these mycelia grow and form clumps of material. They then place them in various moulds and dry them out
“It’s handcrafted, locally grown, artisanal fungus,” Ross says.
“Small-scale, small batches,” Wang says.
When the company started back in 2013, they were first making mushroom-based bricks as an alternative to common construction materials. Unfortunately, however, the price for these bricks was higher than that of ordinary materials such as wood or concrete, so MycoWorks was struggling to find a market.
But since this material can be made into a multitude of shapes and sizes, they found that market in the clothing industry. These mycelia can as easily be used as construction materials, being more durable than concrete, or it can be stretched out to act, look, and flex like ordinary leather.
“People always advertise the materials that are on their bodies and very proudly tell their stories, and that doesn’t seem to be the case with home-building,” Ross says. “People don’t talk about their drywall in the same way they talk about their watch.”
The two co-founders hope that once the fashion industry takes hold of their product and funds start coming in, they will be able to more easily expand the company and cut costs of production. One area they are keen to look into is automation, which could cut these costs significantly. While a square foot of mycelia material costs $50 to make today, it could only cost $5 by 2020.
You can’t get more eco-friendly than this!