Bio-manufacturing building materials from mushrooms with Solidworks

Climate change is, quite literally, a hot topic. Every industry has a part to play in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, not least of all the construction industry. According to a report by the International Energy Agency, construction accounted for 39% of CO2 emissions in 2018, 11% of which came from manufacturing building materials and products such as steel, cement and glass.

To address this challenge, the World Economic Forum, along with a number of other global organisations, are working to replace our current take-make-waste society with a circular economy.

“In the construction industry, a circular approach would start by looking at, rather than virgin resources, those resources already circulating, whether in excess or wasted, and feeding them into a new system. Then, at the end of a product’s life, it enters into a new cycle, whether biodegraded or circulated back into the same production process,” explains Ehab Sayed, founder of Biohm, a London-based biomanufacturing start-up.

Over the past six years, Biohm has been developing such bio-based products and processes including a mycelium (mushroom-based) building insulation product, a sheet material made from waste by-products, a plant-based concrete and Triagomy, its patented construction system.

Inspiration from waste

The idea for Biohm came about in 2016 when Sayed was undertaking an MSc degree at Brunel University, London. Analysing waste streams in construction, he was shocked at the amount of hazardous waste that wasn’t being disposed of correctly.

Feeling inspired, he began modelling a construction system in Solidworks using his university software licence. “The idea came from looking at how nature builds the strongest materials, which is carbon, and trying to find out how carbon molecules bond to one another. I then replicated the angles and the geometry on Solidworks to create the components to make Triagomy,” he describes. He then looked for reasonably priced and sustainable materials to use in this construction system. Not finding anything, he pivoted his focus to developing his own materials. Researching mycelium root systems, he realised their complex internal structure that featured many air pockets would be ideal for creating building insulation.

With positive results from his prototypes and test rigs, he set up a start-up to cultivate mycelium in the lab and experiment with different strains that could feed on various waste streams, including polyurethane and polyethylene.

Keen to continue using Solidworks as a start-up, Sayed was pleased to discover the Entrepreneur Programme offered by Solid Solutions.

“Solidworks is the best out there and if you’re used to it and value all its features then it’s really difficult to not be able to use it, so we were very grateful to find this programme which has been a really great experience from the start.

“We got three licences with all the features and have since purchased a further two,” he says.

Full use of the tools

Biohm uses all of Solidworks’ tools. Of particular benefit is Solidworks Visualize, which enables it to better communicate its products through animation, and also the simulation tools, which are used to develop construction systems and products as well as for creating the components used in the production processes.

“We are creating completely new products, systems and processes and having the simulation feature has been absolutely instrumental. For example, to scale up the mycelium installation process from lab-scale to production-scale, we’ve had to model an entire facility from scratch and all the components and parts were designed, developed and tested using Solidworks,” explains Sayed.

Revolutionising construction

Biohm has grown rapidly in just six years. Solidworks has played a key role in enabling the company to scale at this rate.

“We couldn’t be happier using Solidworks in all the ways we do from creating our products, testing production processes to creating animations. It’s really difficult to find all those capabilities in one software. But it’s not only what we can do with it, using it also means we’re cutting costs and saving so much time during the development process,” says Sayed.

Biohm has ambitions of revolutionising the construction industry and the next few years will see it commercialise a number of its products and systems. “The Covid pandemic has revealed a lot of flaws in our systems and the climate crisis is becoming a huge challenge, so there’s a real opportunity to show how nature offers a new way of doing things,” concludes Sayed.

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