Mycelium-based materials for product design is a RtD (Research through Design) STW project, in which multiple institutions co-operate to investigate new strategies for growing 100% natural materials.

One of the challenges of this century is to transform our current economy into an eco-friendly and self-sustaining system. This research project explores the use of mycelium for the development of materials with no environmental footprint. Mycelium is the interwoven network of fungal filamentous cells. Fungi form mycelia on a wide variety of organic substrates; specifically, mushroom forming fungi are known for their efficient colonization of ligno-cellulosic substrates, e.g. wood, straw, etc. In previously conducted projects sub-millimeter to centimetre thick layers of pure mycelium have been developed which, depending on growth conditions and treatment, have then been transformed in materials that resemble paper, rubber, plastic, and wood. Also, composite biomaterials have been developed by growing mycelium in a matrix of organic materials (plant matter) resulting from waste streams. The resulting grown materials have been used to create diverse typologies of objects.

As part of this project, we are working towards the development of a palette of mycelium-based composite materials with different physical properties, ranging from elastic to rigid, water-absorbing to water-repellent, porous to compact. Scientific research combined with design-driven methods and experiential studies enable us to explore the potential of the materials and provide us with feedback on how to improve the properties of the mycelium. The objective is to develop innovative design strategies and novel ecologically responsible materials, and, in this way, to contribute to the emergence of a sustainable society.

The main project partners are Utrecht University, TU Delft and Design Academy Eindhoven, working in close collaboration with a pool of a variety of users, coming both from the industry and from the cultural sector.

At Design Academy Eindhoven, associate researcher Maurizio Montalti investigates possibilities for standardising and scaling up the production of specific mycelium-based composites, aiming to introduce these as suitable alternative materials for designers.