Terraforma, by Lorenzo Silvestri, is a material investigation project aimed at uncovering and showcasing the potential applications arising from the intersection of greenware clay and mycelium within the realm of 3D printing through Liquid Deposition Modeling. The research was first conducted on a theoretical level, reflecting on the potential compatibility between these materials, followed by an on-field investigation phase involving the cultivation, manufacturing and assembly processes.
Specifically, the research seeks to explore sustainable alternatives to industrial ceramic manufacturing processes, which are extremely energy-intensive in terms of both the temperatures and operating times required. Conventional methods in this industry contribute significantly to the release of substantial amounts of CO2 and harmful substances into the atmosphere, attributed to the use of fossil fuels and substances applied during glazing. Added to these aspects is the loss of the possibility of reusing clay upstream in the process, as it undergoes irreversible chemical changes to transform into ceramics that then takes millennia for it to biodegrade.
Taking these factors into consideration, the integration of mycelium into the design practice serves a dual purpose. On one hand, it seeks to enhance the physical and mechanical properties of greenware clay, thereby reducing the reliance on firing processes and mitigating the resulting environmental impact. On the other hand, it aims to preserve the material's biodegradability and the potential for reuse earlier in the production process. Moreover, the organism's metabolic activity is harnessed to establish a permanent connection between the modules forming the object's legs, accomplished through a bio-welding process. Specifically, the fungal matrix, acting as a binding agent between the pieces, becomes a dynamic element in the modular fabrication and assembly approach, conceived entirely based on the organism's properties. This innovative strategy opens up possibilities for creating objects with dimensions liberated from the constraints imposed by conventional machinery.
Rooted in this vision, Terraforma sees the establishment of a collaborative relationship between the human, machine and biological organism components. In this context, the designer acts as a facilitator of the process of ideation, development and production, while digital fabrication technologies become a means of guiding the growth of living materials toward the achievement of specific design goals.
The hybrid material is crafted by combining sawdust inoculated with mycelium, clay, flour, xanthan gum, and water to obtain a printable mixture compatible with most standard Liquid Deposition Modelling (LDM) fabrication equipment. Following the fabrication of geometries, they undergo a 25-day incubation period in an environment favourable to mycelium proliferation, characterised by specific temperature and humidity conditions. At the end of this growth period, the formation of a thick fungal skin can be observed on all surfaces of the geometries exposed to air. In this sense, the design of hollow geometries that can allow gas exchanges and maximise the colonisable surfaces turns out to be crucial. Once the first growth cycle is performed, the modules are stacked and connected together and undergo a further 10-day growth cycle, during which bio-welding between them is achieved. At the end of the second cycle, the pieces, now compacted into a single structure, undergo a 90-minute thermal deactivation process that takes place at 100°C, which results in the arrest of mycelium growth and the stabilisation of the fungal matrix formed. The resulting material is therefore 100% natural and 100% biodegradable at the end of the object's life cycle, and the clay since it is maintained in its greenware state can be reused again upstream of the process or within other applications.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Mycelium, Clay, Sawdust, Flour, Xanthan gum, Water