Unveiling the Power of Mycelium as a Biomaterial

Nature never ceases to amaze us with its endless wonders and hidden treasures. Among these natural marvels, mushrooms and their intricate network of mycelium have captured the attention of scientists and designers alike. Beyond their culinary and medicinal applications, mushrooms have emerged as a sustainable and versatile biomaterial with immense potential for revolutionizing various industries. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of mycelium and mushrooms, uncovering their promising capabilities and exploring their applications in design and beyond.

The Hidden World of Mycelium:

Beneath the forest floor and within decaying matter lies a vast, interconnected network known as mycelium. These thread-like structures form the vegetative part of fungi and serve as nature’s recyclers, breaking down organic materials and facilitating nutrient cycling. Mycelium possesses remarkable properties that make it a captivating biomaterial for both scientists and designers.

The Strength Within:

One of the most intriguing qualities of mycelium is its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. Composed of densely packed fibers called hyphae, mycelium structures exhibit remarkable structural integrity and resilience. This property makes mycelium an excellent substitute for traditional materials like plastic, wood, or even concrete in various applications, reducing our reliance on resource-intensive materials.

Sustainability at Its Core:

In an era marked by increasing environmental concerns, mycelium-based materials offer a sustainable alternative. Unlike conventional manufacturing processes that generate harmful emissions, mycelium can be grown using organic waste products such as agricultural byproducts, sawdust, or even discarded textiles. By harnessing the natural decomposition abilities of mycelium, designers can create biodegradable products that minimize environmental impact and promote a circular economy.

Endless Possibilities:

The potential applications of mycelium and mushroom-based biomaterials are vast and ever-expanding. Let’s explore some of the areas where these natural wonders are making a significant impact:

Architecture and Construction:

Mycelium-based materials are finding their way into the construction industry, offering eco-friendly alternatives for insulation, wall panels, and even structural components. Companies are developing innovative mycelium-based products that are lightweight, fire-resistant, and possess excellent thermal and acoustic insulation properties. Biocycler, for example, is a portable container that uses fungi to process waste, removes harmful substances like chemicals and varnish, and produces new mycelium bricks.

Textiles and Fashion:

The fashion industry is notorious for its ecological footprint. However, mycelium offers a potential solution by providing a sustainable alternative to leather. By growing mycelium on organic substrates, it is possible to create cruelty-free, biodegradable materials with properties similar to leather, opening up new horizons for sustainable fashion. US-based Ecovative, for example, has developed a synthetic-free, durable, scalable, and totally vegan leather-alternative made from mycelium. As soft and supple as the real thing, mycelium leather has made it into a pair of Adidas sneakers in the form of Mylo, a product of Bolt Threads.

Mylo has been used by various fashion brands: Lululemon made a yoga mat and bags out of it, while Stella McCartney has made clothing and accessories, including the Frayme Mylo bag. Another company, MycoWorks, created a mycelium leather bag for Hermès in 2021, called Silvania. Car maker Kia also teamed up with South Korean startup Mycel to develop mycelium-based materials to replace traditional leather for the interiors of its cars.

Beauty and cosmetics packaging solutions:

From sheet masks to disposable salon sandals to plastic lining in the shipping of even eco-friendly materials, waste permeates the beauty industry in ways that can no longer be overlooked. With packaging accounting for 40% of plastic usage, beauty brands are turning to a natural solution: mycelium. This biodegradable and compostable material can replace traditional Styrofoam and plastic packaging, reducing waste and pollution.

More packaging solutions:

Furniture giant IKEA is phasing out all its EPS packaging to replace it with mushroom packaging in the form of mycelium foams and composite boards. Developed by product design company Ecovative, the mycelium-based material is called Mushroom Packaging, or MycoComposite. The material is actually grown in a controlled environment in less than a week, providing a sustainable option for any packaging requirement that might arise.

Medical and Pharmaceutical Applications:

Mushrooms have a long history of medicinal use, and ongoing research highlights their therapeutic potential. Macroscopic fungi, mainly higher Basidiomycetes and some Ascomycetes, are considered medicinal mushrooms and can prevent, alleviate or cure several diseases and balance a healthy diet in the form of powders or extracts (Arshadi et. al. 2023). Mycelium-based products are being explored for drug delivery systems, wound dressings, and even the production of bioactive compounds. The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties exhibited by certain mushrooms further enhance their value in the medical field.

Various Biodegradable Products:

From disposable cutlery to cosmetic packaging, mycelium offers an array of possibilities for creating biodegradable and eco-friendly products. These materials can decompose naturally, eliminating the need for landfill disposal and contributing to a cleaner and greener future.


As we venture further into a sustainable future, the potential of mycelium and mushrooms as biomaterials becomes increasingly apparent. Their unique properties, coupled with their minimal environmental impact, position them as game-changers.


Photo credit: Dutch Design Daily


Arshadi, N., Nouri, H. & Moghimi, H. Increasing the production of the bioactive compounds in medicinal mushrooms: an omics perspective. Microb Cell Fact 22, 11 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12934-022-02013-x