Can fungi replace plastics?

Yvonne Hanna brought this one to my attention.  It’s not really ‘free energy’ related, but it is a distant cousin inasmuch as it addresses a possible replacement for the need for some of the oil we use on the planet, and that via a biodegradable method.

Here’s the opening of an article at PhysOrg.

Fungi, with the exception of shiitake and certain other mushrooms, tend to be something we’re disgusted by (think moldy bread or dank-smell­ing mildew). But they really deserve more respect, because some fungi have fantastic capabilities.

They can be grown, under certain circumstances, in almost any shape—from flip-flops (no joke!) to candle holders—and be totally biodegradable at the same time. And, if this weren’t enough, they might have the potential to replace plastics one day. The secret is in the mycelia. Biology Professor Steve Horton likens this mostly underground portion of fungi (the mushrooms that pop up are the reproductive structures) to a tiny biological chain of tubular cells. “It’s this linked chain of cells that’s able to communicate with the outside world, to sense what’s there in terms of food and light and mois­ture,” he said. “Mycelia take in nutrients from available materials like wood and use them as food, and the fungus is able to grow as a result.” “When you think of fungi and their mycelia, their function—ecologically—is really vital in degrading and breaking things down,” Horton added. “Without fungi, and bacteria, we’d be I don’t know how many meters deep in waste, both plant matter and animal tissue.” Looking something like extremely delicate, white dental floss, mycelia grow in, through and around just about any organic substrate. Whether it’s leaves or mulch, mycelia digest these natural materials and bind everything together in a cohesive mat. And these mats can be grown in molds, molds that might make a shoe sole or packing carton. Ecovative Design, in Green Island, N.Y., is the only com-pany harnessing this particular mycological power right now. And it has Horton, and another Union researcher, Ronald Bucinell, to help it do so.

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