Swiss students develop plastic replacement

Students at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland are working on an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic made from mycelium and sawdust. Their new material is resistant and yet fully biodegradable.

Mycelium, or the part of mushrooms that grows underground, is a promising basis for innovative materials. The thread-like substance can bind together various natural substrates, and the resulting mixture can be moulded into a range of products such as bricks, panels, packaging chips and even furniture.

What’s more, mycelium-based materials are not only light, cheap and easy to make, but they also provide a way to recycle waste products and can be biodegraded in just three months.

Students at the EPFL have now developed a biodegradable material made from mycelium and sawdust. Using their own special recipe, their new material could serve as a replacement for plastic.

“We worked with several EPFL labs to test the material’s key properties: thermal insulation, acoustic, absorption, compressive strength, and water- and fire-resistance,” Gaël Packer, an environmental engineering student at EPFL, said in a statement.

Their tests showed that the mushroom-derived material’s thermal insulation capacity is on par with other insulating materials and can easily withstand the weight of a human body. It also floats, is watertight and is fairly fire-resistant.

The students grew their own mycelium from local oyster mushrooms.

Image credit: Alain Herzog/EPFL

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