Mycokast: New generation of self-healing urban materials based on fungal spores

The `Mycokarst` project addresses the challenge of karst sinkholes in urban environment. Karst sinkhole is the world unique phenomenon that is caused by the groundwater movement inside the soluble ground rocks. The underlying bedrock is composed of material, such as gypsum or dolomite (carbonates), which can be slowly dissolved by water leading to a variety of caves, craters, basins, karst logs, ravines, valleys and canyons. There are sinkholes with unique morphologies around the world – Antarctica covered with ice-covered shell, Russia, USA, China, Africa and other regions.
However, in today’s cities, karst phenomena are usually associated with collapses of roads and entire settlements. A number of strategies are used to explore karst topography around the world; however, sinkhole hazards in karst areas, assessing karst presence and their management are not well understood.

This project considers the smart strategies in relation to materials with a high probability of destruction, where the key one is biotechnologies. It was noted that unlike common concrete-based mixtures, materials based on simplest microorganisms has the greatest flexibility and resilience to impacts.
The focus is on ability of fungal spores to expand along the pores and cracks of the carbonate-based material and produce limestone under moisture. A new generation of urban materials, which is based on karst soil component and fungal spores and able to “self-repair” in extreme conditions, is proposed.
Taking into account carbonate-based karst composition of the karst ravine along Noksa river in Kazan city, the project’s experimental study allowed to prove that spores are able to bind karst soil due to the bound calcium there. As a result, the spores-based material is extremely hard, shatter-resistant and can handle compression forces of more than 40 Mpa. In addition, it was noted that natural diversity and temperature differences contribute to the appearance of various mycelium` patterns. The Mycokarst system is scalable: tested modules were combined into the karst wall prototype, then – to large karst ravine prototype.

Mycokast is promoted as a new generation of urban materials that is based on karst soil component and fungal spores and able to “self-repair” in extreme conditions. The implementation of the Mycokarst system can be realized by robotics technologies and drones, saving labor and time for execution. Moreover, this biointegrated material allows not only to save on manufacture of concrete for construction and engineering strategies, but also realizes a smart solution for modern challenges, in particular, in Kazan. An actively developing city has the potential to introduce “smart” methods of monitoring karst processes with minimal human intervention and to create new typologies of ecosystems for social and environmental purposes. However, despite the fact the project site was specified, the Mycokarst self-healing system is universal and modular due to the similarity of karst conditions and relevance of problem around the world.
The breakthrough of the work is that this nature-based technology of managing urban “non-programmable” phenomena can be realized in relation to architecture materials under high risk of collapsing as well. The Mycokast technology does not require human intervention when damage occurs.

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