Futuristic Footwear from Mushroom

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

Students of University of Delaware, UK  put their best foot forward at this year’s National Sustainable Design Expo, showing off a biodegradable shoe they fashioned using mushrooms, chicken feathers and textile waste.

The shoe and the research process that went into its development were on display at this year’s Expo, part of the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., April 7-8. UD’s team was invited to take part after receiving $15,000 in support from the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “People, Prosperity and the Planet” (P3) grants program.

To make fabric from mushroom mycelium, the interlocking root system from which the part of the mushroom that any one  eat on their  pizza grows.

The researchers experimented with growing different species of mushrooms and using different materials, known as substrates, in which the mycelium forms its network of roots. They grew numerous samples, dried them and tested them for potential use as the sole of a shoe.

The nutrients in which the samples grew included chicken feathers and a textile waste product that’s most often used as a packing material. The team hopes to experiment in the future with discarded natural-fiber clothing, perhaps shredding it to create a fluffy addition to the feathers as a growth medium. The chicken feathers and the textile products provide the nutrients for the mycelium, and they also are a supporting material for it to grow in. Using textile waste from discarded clothing fits with another sustainability project that UD’s fashion and apparel studies department has taken on.

More work remains on moving from a prototype to a potentially marketable shoe, but the team is optimistic.

With nearby Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, known as the Mushroom Capital of the World and Delaware one of America’s top producers of broiler chickens, the new composite has an ample supply of regional raw materials.

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