Step-by-step Guide on How to Make Mycelium Bricks

Navigating through the realm of sustainable and eco-friendly building materials, the spotlight is now on a unique contender – mycelium bricks. In this detailed step-by-step guide, you are set to embark on a journey of discovery, learning firsthand how to manufacture these innovative bricks. An alternative construction material, Mycelium bricks, are composed of organic matter and fungal mycelium, promising enhanced durability and an impressive reduction in the carbon footprint. As you progress further into the article, immerse yourself in the transformation of fungi into robust and environmentally-conscious building blocks.

Step-by-step Guide on How to Make Mycelium Bricks

Understanding Mycelium

Before we dive into the specifics of mycelium bricks, it’s essential to understand what mycelium is.

Definition of Mycelium

Mycelium refers to the root structure of fungi consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. This often underground component consumes and breaks down organic matter, thereby playing a crucial role in ecosystems’ nutrient recycling processes.

Benefits of Using Mycelium in Construction

Mycelium’s unique properties make it an attractive material for construction. Firstly, it’s renewable and biodegradable, minimizing environmental harm. Furthermore, it’s resilient—able to withstand pressure and impact—combining strength with lightweight properties. Mycelium is also a brilliant insulator and exhibits natural resistance to mould and fire—traits desirable in the construction industry.

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The Sustainability Aspect of Mycelium Bricks

Moving towards more sustainable materials in construction is critical for reducing our environmental impact. Mycelium bricks align with this as they are biodegradable with low embodied energy and do not cause pollution during production or disposal. Plus, mycelium cultivation can use agricultural waste as a substrate, adding to its green credentials.

Underlying Theory of Mycelium Bricks

Understanding how mycelium bricks work at a basic level will be illuminating for their production process.

The Science behind Mycelium Bricks

Mycelium bricks are formed by encouraging mycelium growth in a particular shape, usually a brick. The mycelium consumes a substrate—often agricultural waste—and as the threads intertwine, they form a solid, durable substance. This mycelium-substrate complex then hardens into a brick form.

How Mycelium Bricks are Formed

Forming mycelium bricks involves growing mycelium within a mold that defines the shape of the brick. The mycelium is given a suitable substrate to feed on, and as the mycelium grows, it forms a dense, intertwining network that takes on the shape of the mold.

The Necessary Materials and Tools

Before starting the process, gather all the necessary materials and tools.

Mycelium Spores: Sourcing and Selection

The first requirement is mycelium spores, which can be sourced online or from local greenhouses and gardening shops. Important factors in spore selection include the specific mycelium species and strand, as different types present different growth rates, densities, and looks.

Growing Medium: Types and Choices

The growth medium, or substrate, feeds the mycelium. Possible substrates include straw, coffee grounds, or other agricultural waste. It’s crucial to verify the substrate compatibility with your chosen mycelium species, as some may prefer specific substrates.

Mold for Shaping: Options and Preparations

The mold defines the shape and size of your brick. It needs to be robust and heat-resistant, as it undergoes sterilization before use. You can use readily available items like plastic containers, or custom-build your mold for specific dimensions.

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Needful Tools: A Comprehensive List

Several tools are necessary, including gloves, a heat source for sterilization (like a pressure cooker), bags for substrate incubation, a clean workspace, and cleaning supplies for maintaining equipment and the workspace.

Preparing the Mycelium Spores

A core step in the creation of mycelium bricks involves correctly handling the mycelium spores.

Understanding the Role of Spores

Spores serve as the “seeds” from which mycelium grows. Properly prepared and cared for, they will germinate, leading to mycelium growth.

Correct Handling of Mycelium Spores

Extreme care must be taken while handling mycelium spores to avoid contamination. Ensure cleanliness by using sterilized equipment and working in a clean, preferably controlled, environment.

Sterilization Techniques for Safety

Sterilization is vital to eliminate unwanted microbes that may compete with the mycelium for resources or produce harmful substances. Typical sterilization involves heat treating the materials; other methods include the use of bleach solutions or, in some cases, UV radiation.

Creating Your Growth Medium

The preparation of the growth medium is as important as the handling of mycelium spores.

Choosing the Appropriate Substrate

The substrate choice significantly impacts the quality of your mycelium bricks. It must be nutrient-rich and compatible with your mycelium species. Common choices include straw, coffee grounds, paper, and wood chips.

The Use of Agricultural Waste

Agricultural waste, such as crop residues, can make excellent substrates. Integrating such waste not only feeds the mycelium but also contributes to a circular economy by reducing waste.

Preparation and Sterilization of the Substrate

After picking the substrate, it must be appropriately prepared—cut into smaller pieces—and sterilized. Then it is mixed with the mycelium spores, a process known as “inoculation.”

Molding of the Mycelium Bricks

The molding step involves giving shape to your bricks.

Selection of Brick Shape and Size

Your choice of brick shape and size depends on your intended use of the mycelium bricks. You could opt for traditional, rectangular bricks or other shapes based on your architectural need.

Preparing Your Molds

Ensure that your molds are clean and sterilized before use. This step reduces the risk of contamination and ensures the mycelium’s healthy growth.

Filling the Molds with Mycelium and Substrate Mix

Once the substrate is inoculated with mycelium spores, it’s then placed inside the prepared molds. Remember to evenly distribute the mix for uniform brick formation.

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Cultivation Process

Cultivation is the process where mycelium consumes the substrate and expands to fill the mold.

Understanding the Growth Conditions

Ideal growth conditions for mycelium typically involve darkness, humid climate, and a comfortable temperature range—usually room temperature.

Monitoring the Mycelium Growth

Observation is key during the cultivation process. Regular monitoring ensures efficient growth, signaling when the culture is ripe for harvesting or needs troubleshooting due to issues like contamination.

Problem-Solving: Dealing with Contamination

Contaminations are usually visible as off-color spots or patches and must be dealt with promptly to save your culture. In minor cases, removing the contaminated area might suffice, but severe cases may require discarding the entire batch.

Harvesting and Curing the Mycelium Bricks

Once mycelium growth has filled the mold, it’s time for the harvesting and curing phase.

Determining the Right Time to Harvest

Harvesting takes place when the mycelium has fully colonized the substrate and filled the mold. It’s important not to rush nor delay harvesting as both might affect the final brick quality.

Extracting the Bricks from the Molds

Extracting bricks from the mold should be done gently to prevent damage. After extraction, minor surface irregularities can be smoothed out with a knife.

Curing Process: Drying and Hardening

The freshly harvested bricks need to be dried out to halt mycelium growth. Although sun-drying is a simple method, other methods like forced air drying or baking can be opted for based on available resources and the preferred speed.

Checking the Quality of Mycelium Bricks

Recognizing good quality mycelium bricks is essential to achieve desired results.

Physical Properties to Check

Quality checks involve reviewing the brick’s hardness, porosity, weight, size, and surface uniformity. Any drastic deviations or noticeable flaws might indicate poor quality.

Durability and Flexibility Tests

Strength and flexibility tests ensure the bricks’ structural integrity and ability to handle load and stress, guaranteeing safety and durability when used in structures.

Ensuring the Brick is Contamination-Free

A contamination-free brick is a sign of quality. Visible signs of contamination like discoloration or strange smells decrease the brick’s quality.

Applications of Mycelium Bricks

The promising qualities of these bricks are making them quite popular in different construction areas.

Various Uses in Construction

Mycelium bricks are best suited for non-load-bearing walls due to their lightweight nature. They can be utilized in interior partition walls, insulation applications, and soundproofing. The use of such bricks in facade design is also gaining interest due to its unique aesthetic.

Influencing Factors for Application

Application decisions depend on factors like the local climate (mycelium bricks are not waterproof and may degrade in wet environments), building regulations, and specific architectural requirement.

Case Studies of Mycelium Brick Use

Several real-world examples demonstrate the potential and versatility of mycelium bricks. For instance, “The Living” pavilion constructed for the MoMA PS1 museum’s Young Architects Program in 2014 was made entirely from mycelium bricks, showcasing this material’s possibilities.

The process of creating mycelium bricks is a fascinating exploration of nature’s potential to provide innovative, environmentally-friendly solutions. By understanding the process and executing the steps accurately, you can make mycelium bricks that hold the promise of a more sustainable construction industry.