Planet Earth is witnessing the largest wave of building and infrastructure growth in human history.
To accommodate the ballooning global population, the equivalent of an entire new New York City of floor space will be constructed monthly through 2060, according to Architecture 2030. As commercial and residential development accelerates, the construction sector can ensure the developed world remains habitable for us all by reducing its impact on the global climate crisis.
Today, the built environment is responsible for 39% to 42% of global carbon emissions. But there is opportunity for new materials to reduce this carbon footprint. Strategic industry innovators can rethink material usage to begin erecting the sustainable, cost-effective buildings of the future that will stop harming our natural environment.
Diverse biomaterials, or composites of natural substances, represent the most advanced construction building blocks the world has ever seen. And materials scientists are unlocking nature’s wonders, guiding and collaborating with disruptive stakeholders across the supply chain to help decipher which cutting edge options are best suited to various construction applications.
Fast-growing, easy to replenish natural fibers like hemp and kenaf, as well as organisms like fungi, hold great architectural promise.
Many are unaware that the root-like structure from which mushrooms emerge is a fundamental component of the soil under our feet. This intricate network, a hidden matrix of communicative, intertwined fibers, not only connects life on Spaceship Earth but also has the potential to reshape our surface world and the buildings we inhabit.
At Ecovative, we’ve pioneered MycoComposite™ construction materials – a proprietary biomaterial made of mycelium and hemp – one of Earth’s fastest growing plants – to build a better world.
Our alternative “building blanket” is resilient and regenerative when faced with extreme temperatures and weather. It uses fewer finite resources than current, industry-standard materials and eliminates the need for their harsh toxins and chemicals. Our insulation alternative is quite literally grown rather than manufactured. Living fungal cultures are introduced into leftover, industrial shredded hemp stalks to feed off of this otherwise forgotten waste matter and take root into a strong composite material – becoming a molded, biodegradable insulation or sandwich panel core within days.
MycoComposite stores instead of emitting carbon across a building’s entire lifecycle. Hemp naturally captures carbon (twice as effectively as forests), and mycelium plays a crucial global sequestration role, storing 36% of annual fossil fuel emissions. As such, MycoComposite is uniquely primed to effectively reduce planet-warming pollutants generated by the construction industry in the form of both operational and embodied carbon.
Operational carbon emissions are generated by a building’s ongoing functions, such as heating and electricity, and currently contribute 28% of global emissions. Embodied carbon emissions are caused by material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and construction during the development of a building, and currently account for another 11% of global emissions.
Together, these represent a building’s whole life emissions, which the construction sector just committed to eliminating by 2050. Now more than ever, the industry needs a blueprint to reach that colossal goal in time.
Ecovative is doing our part to take biomaterials from the drawing board to the real world and prove mycelium’s ability to rapidly change our trajectory. The first large-scale structure to use mycelium bricks (MoMa PS1’s Hy-Fi tower), leveraged MycoComposite technology. And more recently, the same visionary architect and Autodesk Research Director David Benjamin approached us for a groundbreaking partnership. The Phoenix Project–an award-winning, 300-unit affordable housing complex in Oakland, California–used MycoComposite™ as novel façade insulation.
While it is established that insulation reduces operational carbon, MycoComposite’s Phoenix project incorporation proved insulation made of mycelium and hemp actually reduces embodied carbon. Growing our earth-friendly biomaterials for this project used 80% less energy than petroleum-based foams and produced 84% less CO2 emissions. MycoComposite’s service life is also miraculously indefinite, as any insulation that deteriorates can easily be regrown.
MycoComposite materials’ not only meet, but exceeds International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and outperforms competing materials on crucial noise-dampening and insulation properties. Similarly, it adheres to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 285, as mycelium is naturally flame retardant, becoming MORE fire resistant when burned without expelling harmful toxins.
This is in direct contrast to current insulation materials of choice, like spray polyurethane foam, that harms the planet when manufactured and releases human-harming carcinogens when burned. Even partially recycled alternatives, like mineral-wool and stone-wool, can still produce high levels of embodied carbon when they are not manufactured with renewable energy.
The American Chemical Society recently funded a comprehensive life cycle assessment on mycelium-biocomposites grown with agricultural waste. The report determined what Ecovative has been espousing, that biomaterials with the properties of MycoComposite technology effectively function as a carbon sink and have low embodied energy, vs. traditional materials.
The mounting evidence is clear – insulation market leaders can’t compete with biomaterials like MycoComposite insulation on overall performance, safety benefits and low embodied carbon.
If these advantages weren’t convincing enough, mycelium biomaterials are produced more affordably. Paired with Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) incentives that could cover 30% to 50% of green building development, the potential cost-savings of mycelium construction can’t be debated. And while the responsibility to decarbonize the built environment rests on our collective shoulders, getting mycelium and other biomaterials into the skilled hands of architects, engineers, developers and project specifiers can lessen the load of transitioning to a better built world.
At Ecovative, we believe mycelium is key to unlocking rapid, sector decarbonization at scale. Project specifiers can enquire about Ecovative MycoComposite insulation resources to learn more about working with mycelium for a healthy planet.