From the kitchen to the DIY biolab

From the kitchen to the DIY biolab

Plastic is a big design failure, and we can only solve the problem by inventing new materials. My goal is to use algae, fungus and bacteria to develop new innovative design standards.

I have a passion for the manufacture, implementation, applications of bio-sourced materials and am convinced of the potential of biofabrication. This is a new design paradigm centred on cultivating materials with living cells. Organisms such as yeast, bacteria, fungi, algae and mammalian cells are fermented, cultured and engineered to synthesize natures materials but with new functional and aesthetic properties.

I am experiencing these organisms without any scientific pretension, using an empirical approach, in an attempt to reveal their potential, that will make them the local materials of the future.

Very intuitively I have been mixing, cutting, burning, melting, sewing, dying, the past few months in my kitchen. And as a chance, the different samples of all kinds, then turns interesting to develop. From the characteristics of the samples I start to imagine the life cycles of these materials and applications in design and architecture.

Quickly, the idea emerged to create a social entrepreneurship: Magma Nova - the future (nova) of materials (magma). It energizes a circular bio-based economy, a real vector of a locally produced brand. Magma Nova's mission is to grow materials from living organisms, to transform this materials through partnerships with research laboratories and biolabs, and to design objects of art and architecture that can be bio-degraded after use. Voila, a full circle with a design methodology inspired by the precepts of nature.

Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, very much like the roots of a plant. This rapidly developing organism readily grows on a wide variety of substrates, forming strong self-adhering and assembling bonds through the creation of thousands of filament strands known as hyphae. This substrate can come from many kind of agricultural waste like straw or husk. Then the substrate need to be mixed with mycelial spore and water in a warm and humid environment for about 1 month. In this stage of incubation, the quality of the mycelia depends on the humidity (should be 70%) and on the temperature (25°C).

(Image Officina Corpuscoli) 

(Image Officina Corpuscoli) 

After the incubation the colonized package will produce mushrooms. It can produce about 3 crops of mushrooms every 10 days, but the quality of the two next crops will decrease as most nutritions are in the first crop. After the mushrooms have been harvested the crop will dehydrated and solidify. Farmers usually use it as a fertilizer. But here it gets interesting, because this material can also be used for architectural use, as insulator or bricks.

(Image Govert de Jong)

(Image Govert de Jong)

I am convinced of the value of having a multidisciplinary research that meets the technical areas of biology, engineering, research, design and architecture, because it make sense to associate innovative design with a practice based scientific research.

Until now, in my role as designer, I never took into account more practical issues like optimisation of the process. Could this materials resist to high pressures and heavy forces? How to handle the material degradation over time? Is this an economically viable project? So many pending issues, on with I hope to soon find answers. Maybe the Startup Weekend Changemakers will be a good way to start.

To be continued...