“To convince them we showed our insulation while holding a flame thrower next to it”

It has been six months since our first guest blog here, and a lot happened in the meantime. Summer gave us the time to reflect and provide you with this update. For the newcomers: Fungalogic won the 2018 The Hague Innovators Student price. We are a startup focused on creating building materials out of agricultural waste streams, using fungi to grow waste into a valuable material.

Back to February: we won the price, had a small budget and some exposure, but where to start? We didn’t have a large prototype and lacked any experience with a real building process. But we had some luck; the exposure gained by the Hague Innovators resulted in a great opportunity to ‘grow’ a pavilion for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The Fungalogic pavilion

They were looking for extra indoor meeting space in the form of a small interior pavilion which had to be built completely according to the principles of the circular economy. This intermediate step meant a perfect beginning to put our ideas into practice. The size of the project (3,5 x 5 meters) made it comprehensible for us, while we gained a little revenue helping to test, certify and develop our product. The only ‘real’ challenge was time. The pavilion was scheduled to be opened during a festivity in under three months. Being asked whether this would pose a problem, we replied: “yes, but we’ll build it anyway”.

Doing something that has never been done before raises quite some skepticism, especially around a couple of guys straight from university. The main doubt of the ministry’s building management was the fire safety of our straw-based material. Understandable, but our fungi covers the straw with a thin layer of a natural fire retardant, chitin. This gives the material a fairly good fire resistant behavior. Because of the short time span we needed to convince them before our official fire certification was in. We showed them a video of one of our insulation blocks while holding a flamethrower next to it. It was later posted on LinkedIn and got 14.000 views! A phenomenon we dubbed Firal, from fire+viral. In the end we received the preliminary fire safety report only one week before finishing construction on the pavilion.

Mushroom farmer waste

The actual construction also had its challenges. Fortunately, growing the material wasn’t one of them. By using the waste of mushroom farmers we didn’t have the hassle of growing the fungi ourselves and the use of waste makes fungal materials a lot more affordable. Logistics however, became a bit more complicated. The material is still very wet and thus heavy when we receive it. The farmer is located in the east of Brabant and we planned on drying it in a borrowed greenhouse in Pijnacker. Driving a van with over a tonne of mushroom waste and probably also a little more than the car officially could handle, is the type of ‘startup’ experience you don’t get from behind a computer.

Design without compromises

A befriended carpenter prefabricated the panels which hold the fungal material. They can slide together forming the walls and roof of the pavilion and allow for quick and total disassembly. The panels are rather narrow, as can be seen on the pictures, so that they could fit the stairs on location. Our interpretation of circular building goes beyond deconstruction, but also focuses on using as few valuable and finite resources as possible. We used building felt from I-Did, made from recycled KLM and army suits, paint with a C2C gold certification and all the furniture is bought second hand. The end result, however, is a design without compromises; we don’t want to give people the impression that natural materials and circular design should be ‘visible’ as a gimmick, other than the obvious benefits these materials have to offer.

We look back at an adventurous and successful step towards growing our company as fast as our fungi. We are looking for a place to apply our insulation outdoors, and if everything goes well we have some exciting news next month! Do you also want to experiment together with us in our mission to create a 100% natural and affordable insulation material? We’d be happy to think about the possibilities.