BIOHM: the new sustainability standard in construction industry
Your Guide To Sustainability: We Learn From Nature
10 october '22
Reading time: 5 minutes
Did you know that mushrooms can be used to insulate your house? BIOHM, a bio-based building materials company, took inspiration from nature to create an incredible and sustainable solution for the construction industry.
Words by Eszter Gurbicz
Picture by BIOHM
Construction waste: a huge challenge
Global construction waste is a major sustainability challenge. It is estimated that construction contributes to the third of the world's overall waste and it is also a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. While this issue is now widely known, the pollution caused by the construction industry does not seem to be slowing down. According to the World Economic Forum, the waste produced by the construction industry is likely to reach 2,2 billion tonnes per year by 2025.
In the EU, the numbers are just as jarring. The latest edition of their statistical book “Energy, transport and environment statistics” revealed that the European Union´s main source of total waste is no other than the construction and demolition sector, responsible for 35.7% of total waste generated. The main way in which the world tried to address this issue is by increasing the quality and quantity of recycling and reuse of construction waste. There are many reports about attempts to use waste construction materials, such as Villa Welpeloo in the Netherlands and Brighton Waste House in the UK.
While reusing waste and implementing a circular-economy model in the construction industry is definitely a step forward, there are other ways to make it more sustainable.
Picture by Go Smart Bricks
Biohm: a pioneer of sustainable construction
BIOHM is a UK based bio-manufacturing company, specializing in the research and development of sustainable construction materials. They developed an incredible innovation which made headlines all around the world: a mycelium insulation panel.
But what is mycelium? Mycelium is the underground part of fungi, basically a network of fine white filaments. These are made out of proteins, chitin fibers and sugars, all coated with a gel-like material. Due to its structure and components, mycelium is a strong, durable, flexible, compressible, expandable and moldable material. Overall, it has all traits to become a perfect insulating layer.
As Ehab Sayed, founder and director of innovation at BIOHM, explained to Fast Company: “We found that mycelium, or mushroom-based networks and structures, are incredibly similar to the structures that you get in engineered plastic-insulation products”. Based on this finding, they created an insulation material which is fully sustainable and comes with several benefits.
The manufacturing process is not only estimated to be carbon-negative, but also consumes organic and synthetic waste. In their labs, BIOHM is developing around 300 strains of mycelium species. To grow the mycelium, the company utilizes commercial and agricultural byproducts. They can do so since it is known that fungi can break down plastic waste into harmless hydrocarbons, which are then absorbed into the final material. They start growing mycelium by feeding it with nutrition-rich food sources, then later add the waste products. Those that performed well are cloned and developed further. They culture and grow the mycelium until it becomes the desired shape - the size of a standard insulation panel. Once they reach this size, they are formed into a durable material.
Picture by BIOHM
The great advantages
By using mycelium, BIOHM is able to eliminate environmental issues caused by the traditional insulations. Foam plastic insulations, for example, are created by the use of fossil fuels, while other standard materials use toxic chemicals like flame retardants. Meanwhile, producing mycelium is highly sustainable.
Another main benefit of mycelium insulation is that, while it is just as durable as traditional insulation, it is also biodegradable, so it can be safely composted or reused at the end of its life.
It does not only have environmental benefits, but practical ones as well. The company found that mycelium outperforms other materials currently used in the construction industry. It has less thermal conductivity and it is less flammable. Mycelium also provides high levels of acoustic insulation, showing an absorption of at least 75% at 1000Hz (the typical frequency of road traffic noise). BIOHM´s product is also very breathable and creates a healthier living environment, having an A+ rating.
What many might be wondering is whether it is affordable. As for now the company only produces the insulation on a small scale, the costs compete with higher-end products. However, according to their plans, they will soon scale up production, which will make the mycelium insulation more widely available and affordable.
Mycelium insulation is a great bio-tech inspired by nature. As we could see, it comes with several benefits and outperforms currently used insulations. But most importantly, mycelium is a fully naturally grown insulation, making it an excellent and sustainable alternative.