MYCOTEX is an experimental biomaterials project where we grew mushroom mycelia onto various textile substrates to understand the process of cultivating mycelia and the opportunity for using mycelia-based materials as an alternative biomaterial for textile waste disposal.
Project in collaboration with Triin Talts and Mari Seger of Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn. Advisor, Erki Nagla.
What is mycelium?
Mycelium is the vegetative lower part of fungi that functions to decompose organic compounds. Essentially, they are the "roots" of fungi. Mushrooms, as we know, are the flowering, above-ground part of fungi. Even where there are no visible fungi, mycelium often grows, creating a vast, living, underground network.
Mycelium as a material has a number of beneficial properties. It is 100% organic, antimicrobial, water repellent, renewable, and adaptable.
With this knowledge, we set out to see how this information could be applicable to the textiles industry.
The Textile Problem
The textiles & apparel business is one of the world's most wasteful industries.
While the graphic on the left is specific to the denim industry, waste control is a problem that is relevant to the entire textile industry. There is a huge amount of both pre-consumer waste (cutting scraps, surplus fabric) and post-consumer waste that is generated annually. A large amount of natural and physical resources go into the making of textiles, yet facilities for textile recycling have not caught up. This is not a sustainable process.
Up to 95% of all textiles can be recycled, yet less than 35% are.
With only five weeks of time, we decided to work on a way of possibly closing the loop in the textile production and recycling cycle.
We wanted to see if mycelium could be used to first transform the textile waste into a usable and useful biomaterial. Then, at the end of this biomaterial's lifespan, we wanted to see if it could more quickly degrade and become an organic material that could in turn help with the fertilization or growth of new fibers for textile use.
To do this, we first tested out mycelium growth on a variety of different fibers (i.e. silk, bamboo rayon, cotton, linen, hemp, etc.) and fabric types (i.e. woven, knit, crochet, knotted, stitched, etc.) to see if this was a feasible option for theoretical factories that worked with these fibers and fabrics.
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Takeaways + Conclusion
We learned a lot about the process and feasibility of growing mycelium on a textile substrate:
- Natural fibers such as cotton and hemp were colonized by the mycelia much more quickly
- Un-dyed fibers took to the mycelia much more quickly than dyed fibers
- Beeswax + lanolin + oil finish makes chitin surface much more flexible after curing
- Resulting material (shown on left) is water-repellent
Concept: "MYCOTEX Factory"
Following our findings, we presented a theoretical factory and innovation lab for future applications of this technology that could reproduce our findings on a more mass-producible scale.
The factory would be able to take pre- and post-consumer waste to produce MYCOTEX materials (i.e. insulation or construction materials), and sort out any unsuitable waste into materials that could be inoculated with mycelium and turned into an organic, bio-degradable fertilizer.