Location can impact sustainability of bio-based building materials

10 June 2024 | Muriel Cozier

‘A technology that is generally perceived as sustainable can sometimes have a greater environmental impact.’

Mycelium composites – bio-based materials made from fungi and agricultural residues – may have a greater environmental impact than conventional fossil-based materials, depending on the country in which they are produced, according to researchers at the University of Bristol, UK.

A large amount of energy is required to produce these materials, so countries such as South Africa, where fossil fuels are the main source of electricity, are likely to experience a greater environmental impact. The research was carried out using the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) life cycle assessment methodology.

Publishing their findings in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers added that mycelium composites have a shorter lifespan than their conventional counterparts, and therefore need to be replaced more often. However, the researchers noted that despite these findings, the overall potential for environmental damage can be mitigated by incorporating alternative energy sources.

‘Our main focus was to determine if producing mycelium composites is sustainable in Africa and to identify which manufacturing processes have the most potential to damage the environment.’ said lead author Dr Stefania Akromah, School of Civil, Aerospace and Design Engineering, University of Bristol. ‘The sustainability of [mycelium composites] depends on various location specific factors like resource availability, economic structures, cultural practices and regulation,’ Dr Akromah added.

The research team now plans to evaluate the impact of mycelium technology under a number of scenarios aimed at reducing the overall footprint, and compare mycelium composites to the footprints of other emerging green materials that are or could be produced in Africa.

‘It was interesting to find that even a technology that is generally perceived as sustainable can sometimes have a greater environmental impact than conventional fossil fuel-based materials. This highlights the importance of life cycle studies,’ Dr Akromah said.

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