Portland State University architecture master’s student Sarah Almuhanna has been developing materials from mycelium that focus on the product lifecycle. Her most recent breakthrough is focused on refining the technology for Mason bee habitats. The biodegradable bricks create a clean environment for the bees by improving the air and soil health for pollen sources and strengthening their immune system. The process occurs as the brick naturally decays. She arrived at the idea through material design.
“I was interested in exploring new methodologies around sustainable and material ecology,” shared Almuhanna, “and was introduced to mycelium as a building material. Because it uses the vegetative part of fungi, it is able to naturally neutralize toxins and restore the soil.”
With this discovery, Fungivores was born and Almuhanna entered the tenth annual PSU Cleantech Challenge competition where she pitched her idea along with dozens of other teams. She was awarded $2,500 and advanced to the finals in June. InventOR inspires and supports a new generation of inventors with the goal of creating technologies that will address a community issue or need.
Almuhanna first began experimenting the mycelium resources to create sustainable and beneficial materials for outdoor structure use. She was looking into ways that park benches could serve a need and later serve the environment they stand on. Through connections gained during the PSU Cleantech Challenge, Almuhanna began working with the Roundhouse Foundation with a focus on finding sustainable materials that can benefit farms. The takeaway was to create improved bee habitats. The Roundhouse Foundation supports creative ideas focused on improving sustainability and the economy in Oregon, making her project the perfect fit.
Throughout this process, Almuhanna has learned a lot about herself with the overarching theme being you can’t do it on your own. “I think to be an innovator, you need tools, you need professionals,” she explained. “You need to know when to ask for help. Having a team as part of InventOR gave me the ability to pursue more and challenge myself more.”
She said that through the InventOR competition, she has gained a lot of skills. “Mainly what I’ve really gained was the importance of marketing and being able to take new opportunities and risks in developing your product. I think that’s something that will be forever with me, and I really appreciate that,” Almuhanna added.
As an innovator participating in this pitch competition, Almuhanna said she’s learned a lot about herself. “I learned that I really love challenging myself and that it was really important for me to embrace change.”
As an innovator, inspiration can come from any place. While her initial research was focused on park benches, the shift to bee habitats has opened her to a new passion project.
“Sometimes change doesn’t come smoothly and when you don’t understand the outcome of change, sometimes it becomes difficult,” Almuhanna shared. “But in this competition, they just viewed change as a different perspective. It allowed me to just go with the flow and see what the outcome would be.
She added, “I appreciate InventOR for that.”
Going forward, Almuhanna hopes to see the utilization of mycelium as a biodegradable material beyond gardening and as a building material that can clean up polluted spaces. “I hope to encourage individuals to work with more sustainable materials.”
When the brick comes to market, she is targeting home improvement retailers. The goal is for consumers to purchase the bricks and put them in their backyards. This gives individuals, along with tools such as pollinator gardens another way to personally support healthy bee habitats.