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Myco Materials 1.0
Myco Materials 2.0

Myco Materials 1.0

As part of a research project, I came across the technique of using mushroom root growth (mycelium) to transform agricultural waste into a material that closely resembles styrofoam. Pictured here is a sample tile received from an American company named 'Ecovative Design'. They are the pioneers of the technology. I tried to reach out to them to learn and perhaps collaborate. As none of my emails managed to get a response, I set out to experiment on my own. 


The Science


Mycelium is the name for the root structure of a mushroom. Its growth thrives on cellulose based substrates. Popular choices include wheat straw, hemp and wood chips. As it grows, it breaks down the host, decomposing it in a way. The cycle can be described in a simple 3 step process:

1. Inoculation

Agricultural waste is shredded, soaked and sterilised. Active mushroom culture, commonly called the 'seed' is added to this material. It is then kept in a cool and dark environment for the mycelium to grow. 

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2. Incubation

Over time the seed grows mycelium into and around the substrate, breaking it down. At this point the substrate is completely covered in white root growth. It is transferred to a mould of the shape one wants to obtain. The mould is sealed and left for a second incubation. 

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3. Removal

The mycelium takes the shape of the mould and binds the substrate. The specimen can easily be removed from the mould while maintaining the shape. It is then baked at a high temperature to stop further growth and dry out the substrate. 

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The end product resembles styrofoam in feel and function. It is slightly heavier than styrofoam, is not flammable and is a 100% compostable.  

The Impact


The concept is ingenious. And it addresses two urgent issues

  1. The issue of Styrofoam pollution: 

    Styrofoam, being the standard packaging material for electronics, is used in huge quantities. Inevitably it ends up clogging landfills everywhere. And being a plastic product, it does not decompose and fails the concept of a landfill. 


  2. The issue of stubble burning: 

    Every winter the capital city of India is choked by the smoke generated by the burning of agricultural waste, particularly wheat stubble, by farmers in the neighbouring states. These farmers burn the stubble since it is useless to them and burning it is the cheapest way to get rid of it.

Myco Materials present a very inexpensive solution to combat both these problems. The concept could potentially replace styrofoam packaging in the long run. Dell and IKEA are two major companies who have already started trials with Myco Material packaging for their products. It provides an economical and eco-friendly way to get rid of agricultural waste as well as clear out landfills.  

The Experiment


Version 1

My first attempt at conducting this experiment was not a success. Starting from scratch, I had to make my share of mistakes. There were 3 main reasons for the poor outcome of my experiment:

Hurdle #1

The mushroom culture. It is a delicate culture that can get contaminated by a single whiff of bacteria. Hence everything it comes in contact with, including the air, must be sterilised. I had to learn this the hard way. 

Hurdle #2

Not having access to a lab, I had to improvise with what I had. The substrate (wheat stubble) was sterilised by simple boiling and my wardrobe cupboard was converted into an incubation chamber. The results were not promising.

Hurdle #3

I made the mistake of attempting this experiment in the middle of June, with ambient temperatures touching close to 48 degrees celsius. Mycelium does not grow in high temperatures. 


High ambient temperatures

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Pink oyster mushroom culture procured from a local mushroom farm


Wheat stubble being boiled to sterilise it.


Because of the poor sterilisation, incubation, and the high temperatures, the mycelium did not grow well at all. I managed to achieve meagre growth, but it was a long way from where  I wanted to be. The results are displayed below:




Mushroom culture added to substrate.




Minor spots of mycelium growth can be noticed. 


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DAY 14

Poor mycelium growth can be seen.

Using the data acquired from this experiment, I planned to attempt it again. Details are presented in 

Myco Materials 2.0

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