Keep Cool Report #0001: Mycelium
By Nick Van Osdol
1,700 words, 5.7 min read
“The planet’s health actually depends on our respect for fungi.” – Paul Stamets
Report North Star
Build awareness of and accelerate mycelium use cases that solve climate challenges.
What is Mycelium?
Mycelium is the vegetative part of fungus. It’s a living organism that consists of a network of filaments called hyphae. More than 90% of plants depend on symbiotic fungi, which supply plants with crucial nutrients and defend them from disease.
Generalized timeline of when the fungal organism is most biologically active. Source: https://fungi.com/blogs/articles/mycelium-explained
Why it Matters
Without fungus — without mycelium — all ecosystems would fail. Mycelium connects our entire world and performs incredible, often unseen feats.
However, considering how inconspicuous it can be, fungus hasn’t attracted the same scientific attention that microorganisms, plants, and animals have. Even conventional mycologists are just starting to scratch the surface of the possibilities with mycelium.
We want to spotlight climate technologies that are rooted in mycelium and the climate challenges that innovation in the mycelium space can address.
Why is mycelium particularly exciting as a climate solution? Mycelium sits at the intersection of biology and technology, which allows you to utilize it to really grow a new object. For more on how this process works, explore this video (and skip to 2:45). Importantly, mycelium-based materials can be grown in molds or in vertical ‘farms’ using cheap base inputs such as agricultural waste. Additional key qualities include its versatility, resilience, and its ability to thrive in a wide range of environments.
Every challenge, an opportunity
While there are thousands of applications of what mycelium can do, there are a few key applications that mycelium performs better than many other materials. Here are 3 critical climate challenge areas that mycelium has already started to revolutionize:
(to go deeper on these climate tech challenge areas, checkout our content overview)
1. Food, Agriculture and Land Use
The Opportunity: Mycelium based products can replace existing foods and agricultural products that require intensive land use and are heavy greenhouse gas (“GHG”)-emitters.
2. Heavy Industry
The Opportunity: Mycelium is uniquely malleable and could replace many materials, especially those used in construction, industrial chemicals, and heavy industry that are most taxing on the environment.
3. Built Environment
The Opportunity: As outlined in the opportunity for Heavy Industry above, GHG emission heavy materials such as concrete that make up much of the world’s Built Environment could potentially be replaced by mycelium based materials.
Challenge Area: Food, Agriculture and Land Use
1. Alternative proteins
2. Plant-based ingredients
- MycoTechnology: Using fermentation to discover plant-based ingredients.
- MushLabs: Using fermentation to create the next generation of sustainable foods from the roots of mushrooms.
3. Edible Mushrooms
- Smallhold: A system of remote-controlled mycelium nodes at restaurants and grocery stores.
4. Cultured Meat
- Excell: Exploring mycelium-based scaffolding for cultured meat and tissue engineering.
- Novel Farms: Using mycelium-based scaffolding to produce marbled, cell-based meats.
5. Textiles and Fashion
- Ecovative’s Forager Hides: Building industrial-scale mushroom hide that could replace other leathers.
- Bolt Threads’ MYLO “Unleather” product, which has already been used by Adidas, Kering and Lululemon (also began as a licensed technology of Ecovative’s).
- Mycoworks’ Fine Mycelium: A high performance material for fashion and footwear that’s already been used in an exclusive collaboration with Hermes.
- It’s no wonder mycelium leather was named Fall 2020’s hottest fashion trend by the New York Times.
Challenge Area: Heavy Industry
- Ecovative’s MycoComposite: Mycelium packaging that’s already being used in CPG and breaks down in 30 days, as opposed to… never, like plastic.
2. Skincare and Beauty
- MycoFlex: Pure mycelium foam that can be used as an alternative to plastics for the beauty industry.
3. Industrial Chemicals
- Pesticides: Paul Stamets demonstrates how we could use fungi to more safely and sustainably inoculate soil against pests.
- Soil and Fertilizer: MycoGrow and MycoBloom both aim to improve plant growth, yield and soil quality by first fostering mycorrhizal relationships in soil.
- Wastewater Management: Overhauling the economics of wastewater treatment and potentially deriving valuable biochemicals in the process.
Challenge Area: Built Environment
1. Building and Architecture
- Mycelium Bricks: Watch a video exploration of self-extinguishing, sturdy building materials.
- Scientist Mae-ling Lokko: A deeper dive on why mycelium is a great building material.
- NASA: Could future homes on the Moon and Mars be made of Fungi?
- Need more inspiration? Check out this MycoTree at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.
2. Interior Design
- MOGU: Mycelium-based interior design.
- Mycl: Your one-stop shop for a wide-range of products, including mushroom Armature.
Where It’s Headed
- Mycelium-based biomaterial production will gain meaningful market share as the need for renewable, biodegradable materials to replace petroleum-based products increases. Will it skyrocket? That depends on attention, investment, and how practices for growing mycelium scale (see Obstacles with respect to scale).
- Mycorestoration practices will become more advanced and attractive as the amount of environment we’ve contaminated grows. Increasing water scarcity in several parts of the world will also yield more investment and research in fungi’s advanced water treatment applications.
- With overpopulation and food insecurity increasingly becoming global concerns, fungi will play a key role in scaling global food and microbial nutrient production.
- Fungi will be especially relevant to the production of new pharmaceuticals, as traditional areas for the discovery of novel pharmacological chemicals are exhausted (see here).
- Moonshots: Mycelium will be used to develop living materials (i.e. not just grown, but living when utilized, too). These materials will be able to self-repair, eliminate toxins (e.g. environmental contamination), and perhaps even save lives (e.g. by shielding against radiation).
Opportunities for Action
Conserve: Fungi currently only represent a meagre 0.2% of our global conservation priorities. Add your signature to one key petition that can help.
Create: Grow your own mycelium creations with Ecovative’s “Grow-It-Yourself” technology.
Cultivate: Become a Mycocomposite licensee and develop a mycelium facility near you.
Feed the world with mushrooms:
- Explore the Social Enterprise Permafungi.
- Consider using mushrooms to address food security issues in your community.
- Collaborate with Smallhold on a mushroom minifarm.
- Launch your own mushroom growing business in 6 easy steps.
Restore: Become a mycorestoration specialist to replenish contaminated environments. Here are some some great examples to explore:
- How an East Bay water Agency is Experimenting with Mushrooms to Improve Water Quality (here)
- Scientists discovered a mushroom that eats plastic, and believe it could clean our landfills (here)
Save the 🐝🐝🐝: Invasive parasites and the viruses they transmit to honeybees are a pervasive problem. Can we save the bees without chemical treatment? Ideally, yes. Here’s a comprehensive report outlining the vision on how “Extracts of Polypore Mushroom Mycelia Reduce Viruses in Honey Bees”
Evangelize: Become a Reseller of MOGU products to promote adoption of mycelium-based interior design.
Teach: Create your own courses, like this one on how fungi impact nature.
Oh and in case you haven’t… 🙃 Explore climate tech trends, ideas, and opportunities with 5-minute reports.Subscribe, for free
- Protecting filamentous fungi and other microorganisms with patents and other intellectual property rights is legally challenging; because the space is so new, all precedent must be set from scratch.
- Despite their omnipresence in nature, scaling mycelium-based materials will require significant upfront capital investment and adoption. At present, switching costs away from petroleum-based may be prohibitive, especially in emerging markets.
- Business innovation lags scientific innovation; there’s countless use cases for mycelium, but there aren’t currently enough entrepreneurs carving out compelling niches and utilizing mycelium to create new products.
- Large swathes of the fungal kingdom are intimately linked with plants and are killed by activities that kill plants, like deforestation. Fungi are subject to additional disruptions, whether it be ploughing of soil or the overuse of fungicides and certain fertilizers.
- There’s plenty of misconceptions and even fear among individuals and entire cultures about fungi, especially in the West. Many likely stem from associations between fungi and poisonous mushrooms (only about 3% are), mold in your food or house, fungus on your foot, etc. Before mycelium applications go mainstream, a lot more basic fungi and mycelium education is required.
Your Next Role
Open Positions at:
- Ecovative Design and Atlast Foods — the good folks at Ecovative are especially looking for someone to lead their research foundry who will help “direct the coolest mycelium experimentation in the world.” Sounds like a dream, right? 👀
- Meati Foods
- Fungi Perfect
- Bolt Threads
Interested in working in climate tech and not finding the perfect role above? Shoot us a note at [email protected] – we’d love to help.
More to Explore
- Fungi have been around for 1.3B years, surviving all 5 great extinction events.
- The largest organism on our planet is a fungal network.
- The first antibiotic to be mass-produced was penicillin, which is derived from Penicillium fungi.
- Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. “Thinking about fungi makes the world look different.”
- Fantastic Fungi film by Louie Schwartzberg featuring Paul Stamets and Brie Larson.
- How Trees talk to each other, showcasing Suzanne Simard’s research on how mycorrhizal networks connect plants to each other to share nutrients and information.
- Business Insider Spotlight on Ecovative Design’s products, process and technology.
- Compass Pathways: Publicly-traded company evaluating psilocybin-based therapies promoting mental health.
Other Moonshot Ideas
- Suzanne Simard may have inspired the exploration of fungi-based biocomputing. And it’s not purely science fiction: Ecovative was granted a patent in 2016 to build electric circuits composed of mycelium.
- What’s next in cryptocurrencies? Non-Fungus Tokens? Just kidding. Although maybe Bitcoin will be the Mycelium of Money?
- Take a gander at this slime mold Tokyo railway design study. Under the right conditions, fungal slime molds constructed networks of nutrient-channeling tubes that were strikingly similar to the map of the Japanese rail system.
- Award-Winning Design: Mycelium Chair at Dutch Design Week
This concludes our report #0001. Did you learn something new? Did we inspire you to delve into something further? Do you feel the growth happening? We sure do. 🍄🍄🍄
As we continue on our learning journey, we’d love to hear from you and chat further, whether about mycelium, our content, or other ideas you may have. Shoot us a note at [email protected]
We appreciate you, big time,
Gabe & Nick