A Penn State-led research team has secured a grant from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to study whether fungal biomaterials can replace synthetic acoustic insulation, potentially reducing construction waste.
Benay Gürsoy, assistant professor of architecture in the College of Arts and Architecture’s Stuckeman School, leads a team of researchers that has been awarded an AIA Upjohn Research Initiative Grant to study the acoustic absorption properties of mycelium, with the goal of designing and building acoustic panel prototypes to be tested in the built environment.
Titled “Fungal Biomaterials for Sustainable Architectural Acoustics,” the project builds on work Gürsoy has been leading in her Form and Matter (ForMat) Lab within the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing on fabricating biodegradable building components using mycelium.
“Mycelium-based composites are renewable and biodegradable biomaterials that result when mycelium, the vegetative root of fungi, is grown on agricultural plant-based residues. These novel biomaterials have the potential to replace conventional petrochemical building materials without relying on the extraction of non-renewable resources,” she said. “In our research at ForMat Lab, we explore sustainable ways of cultivating mycelium-based building parts and structures.”
According to Penn State, Natalie Walter, a second-year master’s degree student who is a co-principal investigator on the project, became interested in Gürsoy’s work with mycelium-based composites while finishing her bachelor of architecture degree at Penn State.
“Right now, we are investigating if our biomaterials can compare acoustically to conventional acoustic materials by testing them in an impedance tube to gather their absorption coefficients, which we then use to analyze their acoustic performance,” explained Walter. “We are also doing mechanical tests to ensure that these materials can physically be used for acoustic panels.
“We believe that biomaterials can play a huge role in reducing the embodied carbon [the term for the greenhouse gas emissions that arise from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance and disposal of building materials] and amount of waste generated during material manufacturing. So, from a materials standpoint, we hope to contribute new knowledge to this field that can benefit the architectural industry at large,” she said.
“This project combines fields of architecture, engineering, mycology and acoustics into one line of research. With this approach, we can see different perspectives that we may have been unable to consider with just architectural backgrounds,” she said.