Australia isn’t any stranger to fire-related disasters. The nation experiences greater than 17,000 residential fires every year.
Every winter brings a rise in potential hearth hazards as a result of the usage of heaters and candles. Couple this with our already fire-prone vegetation, and a usually scorching and dry local weather, and you’ll see why there’s an pressing have to develop efficient and sustainable fireproofing strategies.
That is what impressed our analysis group to create fireproofing supplies constituted of edible fungi. These supplies can stand up to flames to guard the integrity of a constructing’s construction (and any occupants).
Our work presents an thrilling alternative for an trade that has spent too lengthy utilizing supplies which might be dangerous to human well being and the setting.
Fireproofing by the many years
Within the Seventies, building corporations in Australia extensively used chemical compounds categorised as “halogenated flame retardants” to fireproof buildings, furnishings and electronics.
These flame retardants, which largely encompass bromide or chlorine-containing chemical compounds, are efficient in interrupting combustion. However many have been related to adversarial well being results together with immunotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, most cancers and impaired neurological perform.
Phosphorus and nitrogen-based flame retardants are most popular over their halogenated counterparts and are nonetheless used for fireproofing in the present day, together with in Australia. Nonetheless, these too pose some danger to human well being and to nature (by toxicity and accumulation within the setting).
Exploring a greater various
Our group has produced a fabric made solely out of mycelium, which exhibits nice promise for fireproofing.
Mycelium is the root-like construction of fungi. It’s made up of many skinny, branched filaments. The cell partitions of those filaments are largely composed of a pure polymer referred to as chitin (which you may also discover in crab shells and bug exoskeletons).
Our mycelium-based materials is light-weight, eco-friendly, biodegradable and has a comparatively lengthy ignition time.
When uncovered to intense hearth or warmth, the fabric can rework to char – a black high-carbon residue that is still when all of the water and risky compounds have burned off. That is just like the charcoal that is still when wooden is burned. This char protects any underlying flammable materials by slowing down warmth switch and stopping additional combustion.
In contrast to present fireproofing supplies, our materials releases solely innocent pure merchandise when uncovered to fireside, equivalent to water and carbon dioxide.
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A flexible materials
Our materials is versatile and will be manipulated to various thinness, together with all the way down to a 1mm skinny wallpaper. This makes it extra helpful than the cumbersome fungal bricks our group beforehand created.
It might be used as skinny wallpaper-like sheets, or consolidated into thicker and stronger core supplies that resemble timber or cladding.
We showcase two potential functions for the constructing and building trade (though there could be different makes use of in industries equivalent to automotive and aerospace engineering):
fungal-only sheets as laminates, the place the thickness will be customised, which might be best to be used as insulation panels
fungal layers connected to the floor of flammable buildings, in the identical manner wallpaper is utilized to partitions, to boost hearth safety.
The following steps
Though mycelium-based supplies are at the moment used globally for building, packaging and insulation, none are to this point commercially obtainable. Furthermore, none have been used or accepted for fireproofing.
We’ve been approached by the mushroom trade to develop our materials and its feasibility for commercialisation. Collaboration will likely be essential to making a closed-loop trade the place agricultural waste will be up-cycled into sustainable biomaterials that meet hearth security wants.
There’s a protracted technique to go earlier than our product will be purchased off-the-shelf, and we’ll want to handle varied large-scale manufacturing challenges within the course of.
Nonetheless, we hope our work can finally contribute to a future the place constructing fires are considerably decreased, and the place our properties are safer and extra sustainable areas to stay in.
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Everson Kandare receives funding from the Australian Analysis Council, Sustainability Victoria, Tyre Stewardship Australia, and Coorperative Analysis Centres.
Nattanan Chulikavit receives funding from Australian Analysis Council.
Tien Huynh doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.