There are dozens of jam jars on the wooden tables, and the smell of mould is in the air. A young man ladles a brown sludge with small white dots out of a pot using a long spoon. “This is a mixture of grain, water and coffee,” says Antoni Gandia, a Spanish biologist, demonstrating to students how to grow fungi at the Burg Giebichenstein College of Art in the eastern German city of Halle. These fungi are destined to be turned into packaging, furniture or clothing. “We are trying to link up art and science,” says Aart van Bezooijen, a professor from the Netherlands at the college specialising in materials and the use of technology.
He, Gandia and Filipe Natalio, a group leader from the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, are experimenting with fungi with the aim of developing new sustainable materials under the GROW project. These raw materials are placed in a jar along with a small fungus culture cultivated beforehand on wet cardboard.
There is a hole in the metal lids of each of the jars to allow air in. The fungi grow to the appropriate size in a period that varies from a couple of days up to a few weeks, he says. The firm but light fungal sheets can be used as a substitute for polystyrene foam, the packaging material used to protect fragile goods like glasses and porcelain during transport. Fibres for clothing such as jackets could be obtained from the fungi and even chairs can be made from it.