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Mushrooms work magic on air pollution

Futuristic fungus-filled wall tiles could suck harmful hydrocarbon air pollution caused by traffic emissions and burning fossil fuels.

That’s the vision Brunel Design student Thomas Sault is about to realize with these honeycomb tiles made of mycelium – the part of mushrooms you can’t see because they’re growing underground.

Carcinogenic hydrocarbons floating around in the air disrupt the skin’s natural ability to detoxify, causing skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis and even skin cancer.

Myco-Hex modular tiles filled with an absorbent mixture of sawdust and fungal spores may be an answer. Fungi can break down 80% of the carbon they take in and turn it into food to grow. When fungi fused to the mycelium grow, they safely mop up hydrocarbons, helping to create cleaner air in cities and towns.

A Netflix documentary titled fantastic mushrooms inspired Thomas, a final year undergraduate student in industrial design and technology, who challenged himself to find a solution to air pollution that is harmful to the skin. “It opened my eyes to some of the amazing properties of mushrooms,” said Thomas, 21, from Romford. “I came across oyster mushrooms and how they can naturally clean up oil spills by breaking down hydrocarbons to use for energy.”

“Myco-Hex tiles are a prime example of biomimicry,” said Brunel Design School lecturer Ayca Dundar. “It uses nature to solve a global problem that is also fully sustainable and renewable.”

Newly unveiled as prototypes, Myco-Hex tiles use a tongue and groove to fit together. They are inexpensive to manufacture, soundproof, fireproof and can be mounted almost anywhere outdoors, such as billboards or schoolyards. Besides sawdust, the mycelium could be fed with food scraps such as coffee grounds to keep them healthy.

“For so many years, humans have worked against nature and slowly destroyed it,” Thomas said. “Instead of working against nature, we need to look to nature and see that it contains the answers to our environmental problems.”