An organism used as fire starter for centuries could replace some plastics, study finds

The term "tinder fungus" refers to a hard, bell-shaped fungi that develops on decaying wood bark and has long been used as a fire starter.

Now that scientists have a better understanding of the chemical structure of this strangely potent organism, they may be able to replace some polymers with it.

According to a research published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, parts of the fungus, officially known as Fomes fomentarius, were found to have comparable structural strength to plywood or leather but at a lower weight.

The researchers concluded that "F. fomentarius fruiting bodies are ingeniously lightweight biological designs, basic in makeup but effective in performance." The future production and consumption of materials will need to address issues with expense, time, mass production, and sustainability. One possible answer is to grow the material using basic ingredients.

Why is F. fomentarius so powerful

F. fomentarius, also known as "hoof fungus" due to its appearance resembling a horse's foot, has been used by people to fuel flames for a very long time. Additionally, some clothing pieces, such as caps, have been made using it. The research claims that the fungus has only lately caught the attention of scientists.

The interior structure of F. fomentarius was examined in greater detail by researchers at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in an effort to gain a better understanding of the microstructures that give the fungus its distinctively robust yet lightweight consistency. According to research coauthor and top chemist at VTT Dr. Pezhman Mohammadi, what they discovered was very encouraging.

The fungus could replace shock-absorbing materials used in things like football helmets and other sporting equipment, heat and sound insulators, and even consumer product parts, like headset parts, because it has structural integrity similar to some grades of plastic, according to an email from Mohammadi.

In addition, Mohammadi noted that F. fomentarius "has a very stiff and hard protective exterior layer, has a softer spongy mid-layer, and a powerful and durable interior layer, each of which (could) beat a distinct class of man-made and natural materials."

Possibility of using F. fomentarius

The scientists do not advocate using tinder fungus that has been collected from the environment and used in commercial processes. Mohammadi pointed out that would not be fiscally feasible because it takes F. fomentarius seven to ten years to reach an important size. The fungus, which is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, is also essential to the ecology because it blooms on the skin of decaying beech and birch trees to speed up the process of disintegration.

However, according to Mohammadi, experts have made progress toward cultivating the fungus or a species that is comparable in a controlled setting.

According to Mohammadi in an email, "With the advancements in industrial biotechnology, we predict the production of Metric Tons in a matter of weeks as opposed to wild-type mushrooms that take years to develop." "For instance, we have 1000-liter pilot size bioreactors in our study facility where this could be done.

But before it could be completely achieved, research and development would be required, just like with any new technology.