Trialling ‘mushi’: using mycelium to create sustainable wetlands for healthier waterways

Trish Sunga Trish Sunga Australasia Press Office,Sydney
21 April 2021

A world-first organic solution to creating clean and healthy waterways is being trialled in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, designed by local engineers, researchers and architects.

The three floating wetlands, affectionately known as ‘mushi’, (pronounced moo-shi), are a series of interlocking triangular-shaped modules about 80cm in diameter.
Instead of using traditional plastic, this version is based on mycelium – the underground network of fungi – combined with organic matter.*

Above the water, the dense foam-like ‘mushi’ is planted with native wetland species becoming a habitat for birds and insects, while underneath, the plant roots absorb excess nitrogen and phosphorous. The wetland prototype is the result of a research and design collaboration by studio edwards, Arup and Swinburne University of Technology. 

The team has taken the mycelium wetlands from a theoretical concept, shortlisted in the Victorian Design Waste Challenge in 2019, to a living prototype after testing structural options and plant types. They will be monitoring and assessing it over the next three months.

“We were looking for ways to replace plastic in waterways: floating wetlands are a proven technology to help clean water but the traditional way of producing them, using plastic, creates other contamination issues when it inevitably degrades,” said Alessandro Liuti, Research Manager, Arup in Melbourne.

The objective was to find an alternative to plastics using organic matter and waste to produce a product which would become a habitat for wildlife and allow the plants to absorb pollutants in the water. ” Alessandro Liuti Alessandro Liuti Research Manager, Melbourne

“Mycelium can be strong, light, resilient, non-toxic and moulded into different shapes. Arup has been developing concepts using mycelium as a building, insulation and acoustic material for several years.”

Swinburne researchers Canhui Chen, Daniel Prohasky and research assistant Joshua Salisbury-Carter contributed to the artificial wetland's structural design and fabrication. They investigated the relationship between the geometric design and the buoyancy of the wetland, as well as the material durability of the mycelium composite for outdoor use. 

“The final product was prototyped and manufactured at Swinburne ProtoLAB, with the support of Swinburne architecture graduates,” said Canhui Chen.

Tim Entwisle, Director and Chief Executive, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria said, “I’m always happy to trial environmentally sensitive ways to manage the Gardens, and I look forward to seeing the results.”

This technology could be a good complement to our working wetlands system, which currently harvests storm water from surrounding streets. ” Tim Entwisle Director and Chief Executive, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

Visit ‘mushi’ at Melbourne Gardens in a quiet nook between Picnic Point and Long Island until June 2021.

*These floating wetlands utilise mycelium, the fast-growing ‘roots’ or, more accurately, the ‘feeding body’ of fungi – combined with organic matter.  The mycelium is from Reishi or Lingshi fungi (Ganoderma lucidum group), providing a robust, versatile and sustainable material.  The mycelium is set within specially designed moulds and expands as it dries to form the structure of the floating wetland.

Mushi was recognised for design excellence at the Australian 2021 Good Design Awards, winning the Gold Award for Design Research. Read the news here.

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